The Cat With Seven Names
Tony Johnston, author
Tony Johnston grew up in San Marino, California. After graduating from Stanford University, where she earned a B.A. degree in history and an M.A. in education, she stayed in California to teach elementary school.
After writing stories for her fourth-grade students, and following a fellow teacher's suggestion, she decided to try to have them published. It was an intriguing idea to write for children professionally; but Tony soon discovered what a challenge it was to create simple stories. So she set herself a course of intense self-education about children's books and what makes them work.
Read more about Tony.
Christine Davenier, illustrator
Paris-born artist Christine Davenier has illustrated many children's books, including the best-selling The Very Fairy Princess, written by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Harrison; and The First Thing My Mama Told Me by Susan Marie Swanson, which won a New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year Award and a Charlotte Zolotow Award honor book. The many notable authors whose works she illustrated include Norma Fox Mazer, Madeliene L'Engle, Jack Prelutsky, and Jutith Viorst.
Read more about Christine.
- NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
- Bock Book Award winner
Like the sailor with a love interest in every port, this feline hero has persuaded several households that he’s a stray in need of feeding—despite his truly impressive girth. Johnston (Laugh-Out-Loud Baby) gives each of the cat-lovers a distinctive (if slightly caricatured) voice and a particular loneliness or longing. Davenier’s (the Very Fairy Princess books) loosely sketched spreads, painted in gentle pastels, offer more cheerful notes, softening the characters and making their essential benevolence clear. There’s a librarian ("He is so big I have dubbed him Stuart Little"), an older man ("Name’s Kitty-boy. I hope he likes that"), a Mexican widower ("Placido... you keep dry, amigo"), a hardworking cop ("I called him Mooch"), a homeless veteran ("Ol’ kitty brings me... a speck of peace. That’s why I call him Dove"), and a single mother and her daughter ("Here, Mouse... have some leftover ham"). A minor accident brings the six together and reveals the cat’s secret in a quietly satisfying way. Johnston’s story combines the particular charm of cats, the flavor of city life, and the way unexpected events make communities out of strangers.
A friendly cat worms his way into the affections of a number of neighbors, gains new names (and enough extra meals to pack on a few pounds) and eventually brings together residents new and old.
Variously christened "Stuart Little," "Kitty-boy," "Placido," "Mooch," "Dove" and "Mouse," the round gray cat offers companionship to a lonely librarian, an elderly gentleman, a widowed Hispanic opera lover, a red-haired policewoman with a fondness for fast food, a homeless vet, and a girl and her mom just settling into their new home. A (happy) twist at the end removes the cat from this particular community, but his presence, however temporary, has a lasting impact. Johnston's text is smooth and conversational, with pleasantly distinct voices for each of the characters, but it may prove overly long for some young listeners. The themes of diversity and connection are commendable, but occasionally, they seem to outweigh Johnston's plump hero. Davenier's soft ink-and-colored-pencil illustrations, mostly double-page spreads, have the fluidity of watercolors as well as a scratchy, scruffy charm. Repeated patterns and colors create a cohesive feel, as does the appearance of various characters in the background both before and after they have been introduced.
Children will likely enjoy this visit to a newly united neighborhood, even if the catalyst for its creation is more device than distinct individual.
Reading Today Online
Sometimes city residents spend their days never noticing the world around them or the neighbors that could become friends. But a shared goal or interest may bring them together as this sweet story about a savvy feline reveals. As a plump gray cat wanders into the lives of six different families, each of the men, women, and a girl offer it food, give it a new name, and accept its companionship. Brought together by their concern for their furry friend when he is almost struck by a car, they all find that they have something in common despite their differences. Thanks to a cat that knew his way around the neighborhood as well as around some lonely folks' hearts, none of these neighbors will ever be lonely again. The ink and colored pencil illustrations highlight the city's busy pace and the eagerness with which all of the cat's new "owners" take him in. Although free-roaming cats on city streets may be at risk, in this case, Regis clearly uses his freedom wisely.
School Library Journal
In a quiet but busy neighborhood, six lonely people welcome a large, fat cat into their lives, each giving the feline a different name and enjoying his company for a while. There is a librarian who loves to read (she names the cat Stuart Little), an old man with a walker, a Latino man and his dog, a policewoman, a homeless ex-soldier, and a mother and her daughter who are new to the area. One day, when a car almost hits the cat, all of his friends run out of their apartments in alarm. The driver turns out to be his owner, who has been searching for him, and everyone begins to talk to her and to one another—discovering the beginnings of new friendships. The ink and colored-pencil illustrations help tell the tale beautifully, introducing the people and their living spaces and creating an indelible portrait of an endearing and very happy fat cat. The text is perfect, letting these neighbors tell their stories about the animal on two spreads each.This book is a true delight for individual sharing. There is a great deal going on in the neighborhood that is told only through the pictures as children look out windows and doors and closely examine the endpapers. At the very beginning, these neighbors are pictured going their separate ways but by the end they are talking and interacting, as the cat looks on smugly. This is a lovely book with a gentle lesson.
A friendly cat with a very big heart connects six lonely people as it wanders about a city. The feline's green eyes, swishing tail, lapping red tongue, and yawning wide-open mouth reveal his endearing personality. He climbs on a chair and sings arias with a widower; dines on catfish with an old man; snuggles up for a nap with a lonely librarian; and has leftovers on a front stoop with a little girl. Even though his grin widens and his belly expands, the cat really "belongs" to none of them. Illustrated in ink and colored pencil, scenes featuring splashes of reds and yellows in swirling leaves and in everyone's clothing provide a feeling of continuity throughout. When all the people unite for a picnic on the last, wordless double-page spread, the emphasis is on friendship and community. What's most fun here is following the cat's adventures just to see who he will bond with next. Endpapers introduce and finish the story, and our last glimpse of the cat is him sitting under a red-leafed tree, smiling in satisfaction.
Library Media Connection
Cats are notorious for not being very social, but in this story one feline brings together people living in an urban community. Though they have busy lives, neighbors share an interest in the well-being of Regis, a rather pudgy feline. Based on the author's cat, this is the story of how Regis rules the neighborhood. Regis knows how to scam a meal and affection. The same people who love Regis pass each other on the street with no connection until an almost fatal accident causes them to rush to Regis' rescue. Though the seven people who care for Regis never know about the others until that day, readers have learned about their lives and the companionship Regis provides. By the story's end the neighborhood has become a community with Regis holding court.
Page count: 40
8 1/2 x 11