Miss Hazeltine is a generous soul—and a cat lover. She’d have to be, since she’s opened her Home for Shy and Fearful Cats. Not sure at first if anyone will bring their felines, she’s surprised to find her house filled with them—ones that are scared of mice and birds, refuse to purr and can’t even pounce. Never fear: Miss Hazeltine is here to work her magic.
But it’s not actually magic she wields. Instead, it’s good old-fashioned patience and kindness: “Miss Hazeltine didn’t mind,” author Alicia Potter writes, “if some cats only watched. She let them be.” One of those cats is Crumb, who likes to hide under Miss Hazeltine’s bed. She gives Crumb some extra attention, and he only hopes one day he can muster up enough courage to thank her for her words of advice.
He gets his chance when Miss Hazeltine heads out one night to replenish the milk bucket and falls in a ditch. Worse yet, she’s fallen where there are owls, mushrooms and darkness, the three things that make her own daring dwindle. The spread where Crumb works up his courage to head out into the moonlight is an utter delight, as illustrator Birgitta Sif reveals his transformation with the smart use of line and shadow, not to mention copious white space so that Crumb gets all the attention he deserves. Sif, it must be noted, seems to be the go-to illustrator for books with shy protagonists. Many of her previous books have been about similar subjects, and she delicately captures the vulnerabilities of such characters.
Sif gives the many cat characters lots of personality, and she brings warmth to Miss Hazeltine’s comfy, ramshackle home. The book is filled with fun details: Look closely in one spread, and you’ll find Crumb hiding securely under a living room rug. In the end, where all of Potter’s story threads come together without a detail left out, Miss Hazeltine rests assured that her cat tenants did, indeed, learn to be “bold as lions.”
This is a sweet and winning story about courage found.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.