Sunday, November 01, 2009

The First American Cats: Pilgrim Cat by Carol Antoinette Peacock

One breezy September morning in 1620, a stray cat prowled the docks, hunting his breakfast. The cat spied a plump mouse. He pounced--and missed. When the mouse escaped to a ship, the cat followed, landing on the ship's deck.

The ship was called the Mayflower.

While the cat was watching the mouse scampering onto the small vessel, a young girl, Faith Barrett, was watching the cat make its inauspicious boarding of the ship as well, a ship which was to make an auspicious voyage indeed. Faith was waiting with her parents and a large group of passengers sailing that day, and although she was both excited and anxious about the long voyage ahead, she couldn't help being interested in the cat who it appeared would be her fellow traveler.

Throughout the voyage, through storms and sea sickness and fevers, Faith caught glimpses of the cat, apparently eating well from the ship's abundant supply of rodents, and when she could, she slipped the little mouser a bit of dried fish she had saved. And when at last the stormy weather broke and the pale, sickly passengers made their way to the deck for their first chance at sunshine, Faith was overjoyed to see the cat, too, sunning himself on the deck. Happily, she scooped him up in her arms, and the cat purred his welcome right back.

Life ashore in the new colony was hard, and Faith had little food or energy to share with the gray striper, whom she had named Pounce, but as the survivors of the "Great Sickness" greeted their first spring in the New World, the loyal cat had become a member of Faith's family. As Squanto came to teach the people how to plant Indian corn, Pounce followed Faith into the fields, occasionally snatching one of the small fishes intended for fertilizer and eating it greedily from his hiding place beneath Faith's skirts. But Pounce also paid his way, prowling the fields and keeping the mice and birds away from the growing crops as best he could, and as the harvest began, her family was happy to have the accomplished mouser to protect their stores. Pounce grew plump and Faith slept soundly with a happy purring cat beside her each night.

But one day Pounce didn't come home from the fields. She searched everywhere, but no cat came to her call. Days passed and Faith was sad.

Then one day Squanto led some men to the Eel River to fish. Faith and the other girls followed along.

Squanto stopped suddenly. He crouched beside a hollow log. Wordlessly, he beckoned to Faith.

There was Pounce, five tiny kittens snuggled beside her.

"Pounce! Thou art a girl--and a mother as well!" cried Faith.

Gently, Squanto lifted Pounce and the kittens and placed them one by one in Faith's apron.

The cat population of Plimoth Plantation took a great leap forward that day, and when the first harvest thanksgiving rolled around, there were five new, truly American cats to enjoy the leftovers.

Carol Antoinette Peacock's Pilgrim Cat (Albert Whitman Prairie Books), was inspired by her visit to the restored Plimoth Plantation, where her own daughter spotted a "re-enacter cat" among the costumed "Pilgrims" there and asked if there really were Pilgrim cats on the Mayflower. Research showed that there were indeed, and also three historical girls who might have befriended one of them on the voyage. From this idea the composite characters of Faith and her cat Pounce grew into this piece of historical fiction for young readers. Nicely illustrated in Doris Ettinger's gentle realistic style, her engaging text finds a novel way to retell the familiar story of the first Thanksgiving in an appealing and personal way that young animal lovers will remember.

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  • My little one loves This Book :)

    By Anonymous Bucket trucks For Sale, at 10:03 AM  

  • Hi, this is Carol Antoinette Peacock, 12 years since you reviewed my Pilgrim Cat (Whitman, 2004). I've just published a new middle grade novel, Red Thread Sisters (Viking/Penguin, 2012). Would love to send you a copy for review, if you're interested. See to learn more about this book, which has a pretty powerful trailer on home page. Geared for kids aged 9 and up. Let me know if you'd like me to mail you a copy.

    By Anonymous Carol Antoinette Peacock, at 8:10 PM  

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