The Last Little Cat by Meindert DeJong and illustrated by Jim McMullan
A kitten is born in, of all places, a dog kennel in an old barn. The kitten is the runt of the litter and competes with his siblings for milk and warmth, so he is hungry and cold. One day the kitten falls from his spot high up in the barn and lands on a dog’s crate and then falls through the wire right into the crate! The dog is elderly, blind, and almost deaf, but he welcomes the little kitten and they become friends. The old dog shares his warm milk with the kitten and allows the kitten to sleep next to him. So the kitten is warm and full and the old dog is not lonely anymore. The two live together in the kennel this way until spring comes. Then the dog’s person, a kind man who loves his dog and keeps him in the kennel so he can have companionship instead of being alone in the house while the man works, takes his crate out into the sunshine. The man was unaware of the little cat, as the cat stayed hidden from the man. Seeing the outdoors for the first time, the cat goes exploring and is thrilled by the world – the sunshine, the grass, the birdsong. When the sun goes down, the little cat returns to the old dog’s crate only to discover that the crate is gone – the man had moved his dog back into the barn for the night. The barn door was closed and the little cat was unable to get back inside. So the little cats leaves. He ends up getting lost among the houses adjoining the barn. He is turned away at all the houses until he reaches the last house where he finds kindness. The book has a lovely ending when we discover that the man who has taken in the cat is the old dog’s owner and so the little cat and the old dog are reunited and live together happily in the house. A simple, sweet story about kindness and friendship with cute black and white illustrations in which the dog is drawn as big and wooly, like a sheepdog, and the cat is black and scrawny. I love reading Meindert DeJong because of the deep compassion he has for animals which shines through in his work.