The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot, illustrations by Ruth Brown (1986)
We read this one because we are James Herriot fans around this house, and BoyChild originally wanted to pass it up because [SPOILER ALERT] a cat dies. He went back, however, and selected it, and when I said I thought he didn’t want it because it was sad, he said, “I remembered I’m not afraid of anything except being alone.” So the story with a sad part is in!
Based on actual events in the life of James Herriot (the pen name of Al Wight), a country veterinarian in Yorkshire, England, in the 1930s and beyond, the sad parts of veterinary medicine aren’t overlooked. In this story, a stray cat visits the home of Mrs Pickering and her three Basset hounds, but Debbie (the name Mrs Pickering gives the cat) won’t stay around long. One Christmas morning, Mrs Pickering calls Mr Herriot to come to see Debbie at her home because something is very wrong. (Veterinary surgeons were called by the title “Mr” instead of “Dr” in the UK until very recently (March 2015).) Debbie has come to Mrs Pickering’s home in distress and bearing a tiny kitten in her mouth. Although Debbie dies, the kitten is well, and Mrs Pickering keeps him. A year later, Mr Herriot happens to be passing by on Christmas morning on his way home from another call, and Mrs Pickering invites him in. Buster, the kitten from the previous Christmas, is active and playful and brings Mrs Pickering joy. He is, as she says, “the best Christmas present [she’s] ever had!”
The art in this book fits the setting well. The delicate detail of the scenery brings the Yorkshire Dales to life, and the animals are particularly realistic. (Browsing for Ruth Brown‘s illustrations–and discounting the ones where someone mistook her for the American singer/songwriter of the same name!–I see that she has illustrated many books about animals (including a number of James Herriot’s other children’s versions), so they may be a favorite subject for her art!) I really would love to watch this artist (and many others whose art astounds me) do her work so I can see what she does to create such vast and detailed scenes! The kitten on the front cover looks almost like it was stitched in needlepoint because the brush strokes are so tiny. A beautiful book, and a real story of loss and love and finding joy in simple things.
This book may be hard to find, but Amazon reviewers have mentioned that the story itself (minus the pictures) can be found in James Herriot’s Cat Stories and (with at least some pictures) James Herriot’s Treasury for Children.