Joanne Rocklin’s The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook is pretty special. It’s about cats and family and sibling relationships and home and loss and community. It packs a lot of depth into a short, poetic, and often funny narrative. It made me cry. It made me think. It made me want to hug my cat and never, ever let him go. (He’s good with that, by the way).
Wait a sec, now we must pause for picture of said remarkable kitty:
That’s my Yoyo. He’s beautiful, right?
So the book introduces us to Oona and her little brother Fred and at the beginning they are coping with the tough experience of leaving their beloved cat Zook at the vet. Zook is really sick and the vet is doing what he can, but from the kids’ perspective, it’s not enough. The siblings are sure that Zook needs to come home to get better and they come up with a plan to break Zook out of the vet. Alongside this, Oona does her best to reassure / distract her brother from worrying about Zook by telling him “whoppers,” or stories, about Zook’s imaginary past lives. There are connections between the stories and what is going on in the kids’ lives and what has happened in the past, including their father’s death two years ago. I think the book trailer really captures the whimsical and kind of homespun feeling of this book. Take a look:
One of the many impressive things about Joanne Rocklin’s work is how she manages to explore difficult topics head on like the death of a family member or a dear pet, but she does it in such a thoughtful and gentle way that you feel the complexity and sadness without being overwhelmed by it. This is not a depressing book. It’s not an issue book, best shelved alongside other books for kids that “deal with death.” It’s much more layered than that and so I think it will appeal to a wide audience. It’s for a kid who loves stories about animals, or who wants to become a writer, or who is experiencing changes in his or her family and doesn’t know how it will all turn out. It’s hopeful and honest and it will make readers want to reach out to the people in their lives and appreciate what they have. You might need kleenex in a few places, but by the end, you’ll be smiling. This is a good one folks. Don’t miss it.
The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook is published by Amulet Books.