Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kids books where the beloved pet dies


I picked up this title from our donation bin, where someone had donated a bunch of 1960's children's chapter books. Jenny Lind and Her Listening Cat looked cute enough, but it turned out to be one of those kids books where the beloved pet dies.
The back cover provides the best summary: "Jenny is so lonely. Her mother is too busy to take care of her, and her father is almost never home. That's why she must live with strangers. One day the lonely girl finds a cat. Jenny loves to sing, and now she has someone to sing to. Her cat listens to her beautiful voice. And so do others. Then one day someone very special hears her sing."
Spoiler alert: the very special someone isn't her cat, because the poor thing dies less than half way through. Jenny lives a miserable existence, even compared to 60's kids without their cable tv. Her mother shames her about her singing and then convinces Jenny's dad that they should give their daughter away to neighbors. At this point, Jenny has spent the majority of the book crying and the only silver lining appears in the form of a stray kitten that Jenny adopts and names "Kissy-Cat." Things seem to be looking up for Jenny and her new music career when, of course, Kissy-Cat kicks the kitty bucket. Jenny is sad, but then she's on her way to becoming Sweden's biggest singing star and a national hero. The story concludes with noting that it is a fictionalization of a true story.
Kissy-Cat's death is almost mentioned as an "oh yeah, we need to end that storyline" afterthought so it is not as emotionally crushing as it is annoying because the cat is mentioned in the title -- and who kills off a title character?! Naturally, the cat can't live forever and it is supposedly based on the true story of Jenny Lind, but then why get kids all excited to read a story about animals? Why not just call it The Story of Jenny Lind or Don't Get Too Attached to That Cat.
On the scale of books that scar children forever, Jenny Lind and Her Listening Cat doesn't even come close to Old Yeller or The Yearling, but is worse than say Henry and Ribsy where at least the pet gets to live. Recommended for: people who like to gently sob into their pillow while denying that they're crying because it's probably just something in their eye, ok?!

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