Known as JENNIE in the UK
By Paul Gallico
Available now from New York Review Children's Collection
I never read THE ABANDONED as a child. I'd never even heard of it. But I trust the NYRB to reprint only the best of the best, and that trust paid off. I felt nostalgic as I read THE ABANDONED, because it has that timeless quality of the other great books of children's literature. I knew the rhythm of it. And honestly, I can't wait to read this one to my niece and nephew when they're a year or two older. The text was just begging for me to read it aloud.
THE ABANDONED is the story of Peter, a young boy who wakes up as a cat after being hit by a truck. Thrust into a life on the streets, he survives because he meets Jennie, a street smart cat who may hate humans but is willing to mentor the boy. Peter and Jennie travel from England to Scotland and back, exploring all the options open to cats. I was reminded of the Little Golden Book FOUR LITTLE KITTENS by Kathleen N. Daly. In fact, THE ABANDONED is a great choice for kids who have outgrown FOUR LITTLE KITTENS.
Fortunately, there is nothing saccharine about THE ABANDONED. Paul Gallico truly explores what it would be like to be a cat living in the wild, with no guaranteed source of food or shelter. The fantastic is needed to make the book work, but it's muted. The ending is quite wrenching and bittersweet, perhaps even moreso than THE VELVETEEN RABBIT. But I think all but the most sensitive kids can handle it. And any kid who loves stories about animals will devour THE ABANDONED. Even at twenty three, I loved it.
Amazingly, Gallico was born in America and spent most of his life there. He did travel, and lived outside the US from 1950 until his death in 1976, but still. He's got the Queen's English down pat and his London is authentic enough to fool an Englishman. I assumed he was English until I finished the book and looked up information about its history.
I highly recommend THE ABANDONED to anyone with children or an interest in children's literature. It's a good choice for THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE set.