The Antique Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I always like to look at old children’s books and juvenile fiction given the opportunity. Pictorama readers know that I enjoy early chapter books that would be called young adult fiction today. (There are the posts devoted to girl detective Judy Bolton, Honey Bunch and of course several devoted to The Camp Fire Girls, Red Cross and Ranch Girls. A smattering of those can be found here, here and here or search the site for books.) And I have written about some of my childhood favorites, including one illustrated by the great Garth Williams called Push Kitty (post here) which reminds me a bit of this volume. Still, it is rare that a true children’s book that I had no prior knowledge of zooms into a place in my heart as this one has. It is great for kids but a winner for the cat lovers too.

The illustrated cover which my copy does not have.

I stumbled across this title while searching for information on another one on Goodreads. The description was appealing and on a whim I purchased a (much) used library copy, sans cover and with a heavily taped spine, (stamped throughout as from the School of the Japanese Martyrs, Leavenworth, Minnesota!) for a nominal amount. With an unexpected trip to my mom in New Jersey and other pressing life matters I didn’t have a chance to read it until last night and it is a gem! I can only say I am sorry I didn’t know it when I was a kid, it would have been a favorite in rotation and my parents would have loved it too.

Solomon in the store window at night entertaining passersby.

The story is a simple one – a skinny stray (all black) cat is taken in by the owner of an antiques shop. It is told from the cat’s point of view and he has some simple adventures – most involve his love of eating fish – and all ends well with him installed as the beloved master and mascot of the establishment. An antique store makes for an interesting setting for cat adventures – while fear of breaking fragile items is mentioned, claw paws and scratching are not. However his nemesis ultimately is an antique doll who receives too much of his mistress’s attention and affection. Fortunately his human loves him above all else and forgives some minor feline transgressions.

Undeniably great cat poses!

The all black protagonist of our story, Solomon (we are not told how he acquired his moniker), looks like my own Blackie and the early drawings of him as a street cat sadly corresponding to our boy recovering (shaved and thin) from his recent stint of illness. (No mention of black cats and bad luck are mentioned and Bradbury gets points for me with this.) Solomon progresses to shining glory although I guess some of his battle scars around the ears and whatnot remain as badges of feline honor.

I easily could have found this book as a child. The copyright in this edition, the first, is 1945. It was published by The John Winston Company of Philadelphia and Toronto and the copyright notes that it was also copyrighted in Great Britain (Dominions and Possessions as well) and in the Philippines. It was written by Bianca Bradbury with drawings credited to Diana Thorne and Connie Moran.

Front papers.

Bradbury was born in New Milford, Connecticut in 1908. A brief online bio outlines that as a young wife she published verse and short pieces in magazines and eventually, after her sons were born her worked morphed into children’s books and ultimately into young adult chapter books. She evidently wrote realistically about the issues of the day for kids in those later books, not balking at difficult subjects. This book and that bio intrigues me enough to look into some of her other books. (One Kitten Too Many may be where I start, but I will look for the longer ones as e-publications perhaps.) She was prolific and wrote 46 books in her 40 year career.

Solomon thinking back on his stray cat compatriots!

Meanwhile, Diana Thorne gets top illustrator billing here and she deserves it. Her cat illustrations are perfect. It seems she is best known for her illustrations of dogs (these seem to be well known and collected), but she certainly lived amongst cats as the poses are spot on for us cat lovers. Her illustrations are pitch perfect and absolutely put the story over. While her illustrations and drawings are widely available on the internet, there is little biographical information about her. It seems, oddly, that she was either born in Odessa, Ukraine, or as she was later to claim, on a ranch in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1895 (d. 1965) – her love and knowledge of animals would argue some time on a ranch I think. Her work is collected in numerous museums in the United States and Great Britain including the Smithsonian.

Something “fishy” about this doll…

The other illustrator credited, Connie Moran, seems to have teamed up with Thorne on a number of similar illustrated children’s books. I can only assume that Thorne was only interested in the animals and left the humans (and in this case some antique furniture) to Moran. She is from Chicago, born in 1898 and dies in 1964 so she and Thorne are contemporaries. Her illustrations are, for me, more commonplace and would be forgettable without the Thorne cats among them.

Solomon loves his dish of fish.

The Antique Cat is much shorter than May Sarton’s The Fur Person, (you can find that post here), but reminds me of it in tone and the way it is told from the cat’s perspective. It is a very worthy entry into cat related literature and certainly deserves a place in the Pam’s Pictorama library.

Blackie this morning. Hopefully on the road to recovery.