A ship’s cat relates his adventures at sea in this middle-grade novel set in the 1840s.
Jacob, one of six kittens born to Mrs. Tibbs, the well-respected ship’s cat of the packet ship Melissa Rae, starts out life with two strikes against him. Not only is he the runt of the litter, but he has four white paws that colloquial knowledge deems unsuitable for the most important job of a ship’s cat: catching vermin (since it is thought rats can see the white paws in the dark ship’s hold). Jacob’s five brothers and sisters are quickly adopted, but Jacob stays with his mother and the Melissa Rae. At sea, young Jacob’s mettle and courage are tested as he first experiences devastating grief, then a mutiny and life as a castaway on an island, and finally, reunion with his loyal friends. Busby infuses Jacob’s narration with just the right blend of seafaring yarn and 19th-century formality, and readers will relate to Jacob’s anxiety over his responsibilities, his fears, and his gradual perception of his own strengths and gifts. Busby’s details (for the most part accurate) of 19th-century packet-ship life and Kelly’s well-placed black-and-white illustrations, along with a skillfully measured narrative pace, bring the story to life.
An absorbing historical coming-of-age adventure supported by deeper themes of grief, despair, and determination. (Historical fiction. 8-12)