As our kids and students mature in reading ability, we often recommend they read the classics. Treasure Island and The Swiss Family Robinson are a couple that teachers and librarians would suggest, yet the language of those classics is archaic and can be difficult for emerging readers, much as they might like the stories. Author Cylin Busby has written a historical novel that can bridge the gap between readiness and understanding.
The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs is told from the perspective of a ship’s cat in the early 1800s. Cats on board were not only considered lucky, but they were useful in keeping vermin at bay and could often give warnings about foul weather. Jacob Tibbs is born at sea and, after an early tragedy that kills his mother, must learn to catch rats on his own. As things go from bad to worse with an injured captain and a despised first mate taking over, Jacob and the sailors must do what they can to survive.
Busby’s language is reminiscent of 19th-century writing but is simplified enough to be accessible to young people. The prose has the feel of a classic, and the story itself is full of adventure and peril with a highly likable hero. There were not usually shipmates young enough to be a protagonist of a children’s book about this period, so Busby’s use of a young cat’s tale is a perfect way to get a sympathetic view.
Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through 8th level Catholic school.