The story of Mark Twain as a newly widowed, grieving, 69-year-old man holed up in his Manhattan apartment in 1904 is frankly a peculiar subject for a children’s picture book.
Granted, there’s a black cat named Bambino to capture the attention of younger readers, but will the picture-book set be familiar enough with Twain to appreciate this morose glimpse into the twilight years of “sad old Samuel Clemens”? Twain did own a cat named Bambino. True story: When Bambino escaped from an open window, the devastated Twain put a “LOST: MARK TWAIN’S CAT” ad in the paper and offered a reward for his safe return… a move that spawned such a heartwarming public response (and influx of cats) that he cast off his housecoats and rejoined the world in his legendary white suit. (As for whether Bambino was really responsible for that, the author says, “Only Sam and Bambino would know.”) The lugubrious tale is captured commendably in atmospheric, expertly composed mixed-media and digital illustrations, often of the scowling, long-faced Twain in various slumped positions. Unusual perspectives add visual variety and effectively highlight the apparent bond between the bereft author and his cat.
A rather obscure human-interest story that, while beautifully illustrated, is not very enlightening on the topic of Mark Twain, mourning the death of a loved one nor cats. A puzzler. (author’s note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 8-10)