HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Cats of Roxville Station
Author: Jean Craighead George
Illustrator: Tom Pohrt
Publisher: Puffin Books, republished in 2010
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 9 and up
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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George, Jean Craighead. The Cats of Roxville Station (published in 2009 by Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group of The Penguin Group, 345 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). Mike is a thirteen-year-old orphan boy who lives with his foster mother, Mrs. Dibber, in an old, run-down Victorian mansion known by local kids as “the haunted house” at Roxville Station. Ratchet is a young house cat thrown off the bridge into the Olga River at Roxville Station by a woman in a fur coat and must now become a feral cat. There are other feral cats in the community, such as Volton the tomcat, Queenella, Ice Bucket, Flea Market, sisters Tatters and Tachometer, and Elizabeth, being fed by “the Bent Lady” who lives in a nearby apartment building, along with other wild creatures in the vicinity, like Shifty and Shafty the foxes, Ringx the raccoon, Fang the milk snake, Windy the owl, Lysol the skunk, and others with all of whom Ratchet must compete to live.
Mike desperately wants to tame and keep Ratchet, but Mrs. Dibber has said no animals in the house. So he wonders if he can make her an outside pet. However, he must first learn to speak the language of cats to gain the trust of Rachet, who has been abused by humans. Will he succeed? And will Ratchet survive? Author Jean Craighead George writes that her motivation for the book was twofold. First, her daughter’s cat Trinket carried her kittens down the staircase one day and placed them on the rug before the George family to present them as a lioness presents her cubs to the social pride. Secondly, George had the opportunity to observe the behavior of a group of feral cats around the railroad station at North White Plains, NY, where she had twenty minutes to wait while transferring to an express train for New York City. The story offers insight into feline behavior while exploring the wonder of friendship and the natural world hiding all around us.
As one who has had cats in my home almost my entire life, I can say that The Cats of Roxville Station captures feline behavior perfectly. There are a few common euphemisms (gee, drat, gosh, and darn), and Mike does some “creative storytelling” which comes very close to lying. Global warming and evolution are hinted at, although the reference to evolution is a good example of “microevolution” as opposed to “macroevolution.” Some people, especially sensitive children, may not like the sadness, such as when three blind and helpless kittens are fumigated and thrown in a dumpster and then a little while later their mother eats a piece of poisoned meat and dies. However, George is a realist who presents what actually happens in life, and these kinds of situations do occur. Yet, the scenes are depicted sensitively without being either maudlin or harsh. With all kinds of odd but true facts about the animals, including the amazing details of how the cats interact with each other and with humans, this book is quite fascinating.