The Christmas Cat by Maryann Macdonald, illustrated by Amy June Bates
Published by: Penguin
Release date: October 2013
From the publisher: A cozy Nativity story for those who love Christmas and cats.
All babies are beautiful and all babies cry. Jesus was no exception. On the night he was born, nothing Mary, Joseph, or the animals in the stable could do would comfort him. But when a curious kitten wanted its turn to calm the baby Jesus, a loving friendship blossomed on that very first Christmas.
This perfect read-aloud was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of La Madonna del Gatto, which show Mary lovingly holding the baby Jesus who is cuddling a cat.
Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to review a copy of Maryann Macdonald’s lyrical historical fiction, Odette’s Secrets. So when she told me she had a new Christmas story coming out and asked if I would be interested in reading it, I was eager. After receiving the book I read it and then excitedly wrapped it and put it in our Bookish Advent Calendar (if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, the basic idea can be found here). I knew my daughter would love this one, and I couldn’t wait to share it with her.
I was right.
We read it for the first time last week and have read it several times since then, in addition to having additional “remember that part in the story?” conversations.
This is the Nativity story, a story my own child was familiar with. But then it goes beyond to follow Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in their flight into Egypt to escape Herrod. What made this unique for me was Macdonald’s focus on this Holy Family as a “normal” family. The baby Jesus is crying. The barn animal noises aren’t helping. Mary is becoming frustrated. It isn’t until a tiny kitten cuddles up against the baby that the vibrations from its purrs calm the child. Later, the family has to pack and leave unexpectedly and the kitten is nowhere to be found. Once again, Mary tries everything to soothe her fussing child, even expressing her wish that the cat were around to make things better. Once again, the (crying) crisis is averted when the stowaway cat appears and the two friends–boy and cat– are reunited.
We’ve read (and enjoyed) many versions of the Nativity story. The humanistic component in this one, however, made it something special. An author’s note in the back tells the reader that the story was inspired by a DaVinci painting depicting Mary, the Child, and a cat. I love that Macdonald has taken this image and spun a story around it. A child and his beloved pet. It’s a universal theme.
So there’s the story. But once you’ve read the text, take the time to go back and fully enjoy the illustrations. They’re full page watercolors, full of warmth, that beautifully complement the theme of this book.
I have a feeling this will be an annual favorite in our Christmas collection.
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