Wednesday, February 20, 2013

ANTON AND CECIL: CATS AT SEA by Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin

I read this book to my six-year-old daughter over the course of three days, and we were both riveted. Anton and Cecil are cats, brothers who live in the lighthouse with their mother, Sonya. All the cats near the docks know to be cautious lest they be pressed into service aboard a ship, but young Gretchen is taken, throwing the cats into shock and horror. Cecil is an adventurous cat who loves to join the fisherman on short jaunts, but Anton prefers to stay near home. When Anton is pressed into service aboard the Mary Ann, his brother tries to follow, only to fall into the ocean. Desperate to find his brother, Cecil stows aboard the next big ship to come along, not realizing how very large the ocean is. Each brother has his own adventure, ranging from pirates and monster island birds to close encounters with a whale and friendship with a lizard. All along, a cat-like eye in the sky seems to draw them to each other, with the old cat saying, "Where the eye meets the eye, the lost shall be found," echoing throughout the book. Forces beyond the cats' control seem to be bringing them back together, but will Anton and Cecil find each other on the wide sea?

The determination of the brothers to find each other despite the odds is, of course, a lovely illustration of loyalty and familial bonds. Anton, though the meeker of the two cats, rises to the occasion and proves himself brave and resourceful. Both brothers make unlikely friendships and find help in unexpected places. The adventures they have are staggering; pirates, a ghost ship, mermaids, dolphins, an island market, a strange island with bizarre animal inhabitants, and the brothers shine through it all, exemplifying loyalty and courage through the most dire circumstances.

The paranormal has a role here, too, with the strange moon appearing as a cat's eye, seeming to bring the brothers nearer each other. What, after all, are the odds that two cats would be brought together over the vastness of the ocean without some outside force helping them along? Anton and Cecil are intrigued by the idea of a great cat in the sky helping them along, but they do their best to make a reunion possible using all available earthly means as well.

This is a delightful read-aloud to a younger child, although it's billed as a book for the 8-12 set. I'm sure the adventures and sympathetic characters are more than enough to hold interest in that age group. Nautical terms are explained or their meaning clear in context. Harrowing situations add excitement, but are resolved in a reassuring manner. We read this 256-page book over three days, with my daughter eagerly asking if we could read more ANTON AND CECIL.

ANTON AND CECIL: CATS AT SEA is a rollicking adventure and tender family story with the feel of a classic. Publicity draws comparisons to THE WIND AND THE WILLOWS, and I don't think that is an exaggeration. Memorable animal characters, positive messages, and riveting adventures make this a good bet for Christmas gifts for 2013. Available October 8, 2013.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

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