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Allan Emerson's Blog

Children’s books reviewed (a completely unserious but emotional journey)…

Normally, doing a book review is no big problem for me. I can summarize the story, say what I liked or didn’t about it, and do it all in a couple of paragraphs.

Right now, though, I’m having a bit of a problem, even though it’s a children’s book I’m reviewing. Part of the problem is the book is written in French and the review is due (in French, naturally) for my French class tonight.

Now, after several years in French classes every Tuesday night (or mardi soir, as we say in class), I can stumble along reading French, at least in children’s books, fairly well. I can even speak a kind of pidgin French well enough for basic communication. The problem arises when I have to write in French and figure out which one of the fourteen verb tenses listed in my 501 French Verbs textbook is appropriate.

The other part of the problem is ... well, this time it's not only the verbs I'm worried about. The book I'm reporting on is called Le voyage du chat à travers la France, which I’m pretty sure means The Cat Who Traveled Through France, although I refuse to be held to any strict accuracy standards in this post. The story is about a cat who lived with an old lady on the banks of the Mediterranean (la mer Méditerranée).

Things were great for the cat (he’s never named, but I’m going to call him "Felix"). He spent his days chasing the wind in the garden and watching the birds fly from tree to tree. It was a great life until one day la vielle dame mourut (yup, the old lady kicked the bucket). Now the story turns into a tear-jerker. Felix is shipped off with the old lady’s effects to a town hundreds of miles inland.

In the new town, there’s nobody to scratch his whiskers or pet him and soon he’s forgotten. He becomes a vagabond, wandering the streets in search of food and being chased by stray cats. He learns to hunt mice and birds (well, he is a cat).

He sets out to return to the house by the sea where he used to live. The weeks pass, then the months. His fur gets rough and dull. He’s alone and exhausted. All the while, memories of his old life return in his dreams. (I warned you this was going to get sad.)

Eventually, he manages to find the house where he used to live, but someone else lives there now. Felix goes in anyway (he’s a cat, he doesn’t care). He finds two children there who pet him, which reminds him of the old lady’s caresses, and he knows he's home again. That’s supposed to be a happy ending, but the old lady’s still dead, and who knows what the kids’ parents will have to say about the new addition to the menage.

My teacher keeps telling me it’s a kid’s book and I’m over-analyzing the plot, but still…

Next week, watch for my report on the tragic story of Miss Muffet and her lifelong struggle with PTSD after being frightened by a hideous creature that invaded her personal space. Dismiss them as kidlit all you want, children’s storybook characters live a life unimaginable to most of us, and their courageous struggles to triumph over adversity deserve our attention.

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