Dave Mitchell is fourteen and growing up in the midst of the variety and excitement of New York City. In this quiet, reflective, and humorous story of a boy's journey toward adulthood, Emily Neville captures the flavor of one kind of New York boyhood -- the sights and sounds of Gramercy Park, Coney Island, the Fulton Fish Market, the Bronx Zoo, the stickball games played in city streets, the fascinating mixture of nationalities and eccentrics that give the huge metropolis so much of its flavor and excitement. But most of all the author tells a realistic tale of Dave's affection for a stray tomcat, his comradeship with a troubled nineteen-year-old boy, his first shy friendship with a girl, and his growing understanding of his father as a human being and not just a parent. Emil Weiss's lively drawings capture the mood and setting of the story to perfection.
1960s kidlit set in NYC will always and forever be my favorite. First of all because 1960s NYC is a WONDERFUL setting for coming-of-age stories (hippies and beatniks and other fun things!) but also because 1960s kidlit is such a fascinating animal all unto itself. Kids learning to navigate the world is a common theme, as is parents not understanding how to communicate with their children because they’re from very different generations.
The language in these old kidlit books tends to be both beautiful yet straight-forward. And lots of times the kids go on adventures around the city, whether it be wandering into a strange storage unit or taking the subway down to Coney Island. They’re just FUN, so much so that I usually enjoy the experience of having read a ’60s kidlit book on top of the actual story.
It’s Like This, Cat is about a boy growing up in a somewhat idyllic New York. This boy finds a cat, the cat proceeds to be adorably scruffy and/or almost feral, the boy then slowly inches his way towards adulthood. As it’s a slice-of-life book there isn’t much action; a lot of the personal growth comes from emotional situations rather than physical ones, although there IS a very exciting scene where Dave jumps out of the car on a highway to rescue Cat. And of course there are lessons about family and friendship, though never in a cheesy way.
My favorite part about Cat (besides the writing style) is the difficult journey Dave and his father take to better understand each other. Dave doesn’t get his father, and his father doesn’t get Dave. They spend a lot of the book arguing and upsetting Mrs. Mitchell (so much so that she has asthma problems!), but eventually they work things out. They inch so painfully slowly towards reconciliation! But they get there! And it’s lovely.
If you’re also a fan of 1960s kidlit, or of coming-of-age stories, I’d definitely recommend checking out It’s Like This, Cat!
Read: April 29-30, 2014
Apparently, the copyright wasn’t renewed (?), so it’s available for free at Project Gutenberg! Download it NOW.