Written by Alicia Potter, Illustrated by Birgitta Sif
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
When Miss Hazeltine opened her Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, she didn’t know if anyone would come.
The plot in a nutshell: Scared cats band together to rescue their person.
Cats with all sorts of problems come to stay at Miss Hazeltine’s Home, and the most fearful cat there is Crumb, who spends most of his time hidden. Miss Hazeltine teaches the cats about birds, climbing, scary noises and making friends. She has them practice pouncing and being near a broom. Crumb watches all the lessons from his spot under the bed. Miss Hazeltine tells him that she gets scared sometimes, too. More cats come to the home and Miss Hazeltine has to run out to get more milk. On her way home from getting milk, she trips and falls into a ditch and finds herself all alone in the woods after dark. Crumb is the only cat who knows where she’s gone, so he leads all the cats into the woods on a rescue mission. They make a chain to help her out of the ditch and returns to her home, which she renames the Home for Shy and Pretty Brave If You Ask Us Cats. She tells them they can stay forever, if they want.
This feline-centric story is not just for cat lovers, but I believe cat lovers will definitely be among its biggest fan base. According to her bio, author Alicia Potter has been a foster mom for her local animal shelter and I can see not only a love of cats, but a depth of understanding of the average cat owner. Cats can be aloof, for sure, but that just makes it more significant when you make a real connection with a cat. That connection is integral to the story here, with stand-offish Crumb coming to the rescue and breaking down the barrier between him and Miss Hazeltine. It’s a very sweet story.
The illustrations, from Birgitta Sif, are pencil drawings that have been digitally colored and they blend comic exaggeration with realism, creating beautifully drawn environments and populating them with wide-eyed cats of all shapes and sizes. Miss Hazeltine is a great character visually, with her red high-top sneakers and pointy yellow hat. I love the ending, when Miss Hazeltine praises all the cats for their courage and they pile on and around her to nap. It’s enough to make a cat person out of anyone.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you never really know how brave you are until something calls for you to be brave.