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TONIO'S CAT by Mary Calhoun


by Mary Calhoun & illustrated by Edward Martinez

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-688-13314-2
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Calhoun (Henry the Sailor Cat, 1994, etc.) writes about Tonio, from Mexico, who is new at school and new in California. Hanging around the school one day, he befriends a stray cat. Little by little—giving him a piece of sausage, helping him catch a mouse- -Tonio wins his trust and makes his first friend. As a result, he gets to know a couple of his classmates as well. The story ends with a dramatic twist in which Tonio finds the cat caught in a cage and sets him free. This short tale about the immigrant experience has emotional subtlety, and readers will empathize with Tonio as they watch him gradually embrace his fragile new life. Its low-key style combines a clean and easy syntax with a rich assortment of adjectives and a sizable Spanish vocabulary: a dinner-table conversation takes place in Spanish, in which every phrase is unobtrusively translated in the third-person narration. The large paintings, in a palette of understated grays and greens, are filled with Mexican faces. What these illustrations capture best is not any individual personality but a general mood: The way things look to the slightly melancholy, no longer completely miserable, new kid in school. The lunchroom scenes are particularly evocative. (Picture book. 5+)