Admittedly a strange topic, these two picture books found their way onto my shelf at different times, and they both happen to feature seniors. One is a look back at a life well-lived as it comes to a close, while the other is a period in time of an older gentleman who lives alone but befriends the animals around him. My kids enjoyed both of these stories, but the colorful one that prominently features a cat won out, for obvious reasons.
Told through very little text and only three colours (black, white and brown), this book isn’t an obvious choice for young kids. No colour, no humour, it tells the story of an older woman known as Hazel, and a younger girl Hilda who she spends time with. Together they sweep the front steps, clean the piano keys, and bond over stories of Hazel as a young girl. On the surface not much happens, but through illustrations, Hazel’s recollections come alive with a sparkling suggestion of what she imagines in her head, and through magic, Hilda can also see these shimmering memories. Hazel stops getting out of bed, and Hilda is left to sweep the steps by herself, but then we see Hazel come back to life through the same shimmering white stories she told Hilda about while she was still alive.
A picture book that hammers home a message is never fun to read to a child, but sometimes messages need to be a bit more obvious to really sink in for kids; although my kids liked the book well enough, I suspect much of Witch Hazel likely flew over their heads. Quite honestly, much of it flew over mine as well. The friendship between the two generations is a lovely one, and for that reason, I recommend reading it to a child, but will it be a favourite they jump to for during story time? Likely not. It has a positive outlook on moving on after death and looking back fondly on time shared to keep memories alive, but other than a tool meant to teach kids about grief, I can’t see this being a book we will revisit.
A colourful, cute, and cat-filled tale of what its like when a friend goes away, Hat Cat appealed to both myself and my kids with its numerous layers of messaging and thoughtfulness. An old man lives alone, but enjoys his daily ritual of feeding the squirrels, until one day, a cat appears by his side. He takes this cat in, feeding it and providing a safe home, until one day the old man doesn’t come back, and other new people come by and feed it instead. At this point I had assumed the old man had died – he didn’t! He returns after an extended stay away, a bit more feeble, and they resume their life together. The nuanced part of the story is this; when the old man first took in the cat, he never let it go outside because he was worried it would run away from him. But when he came back after his hospital stay, he has a change of heart and realizes he can trust the cat to always come back, so now he allows the cat outside whenever she likes.
Picture books that use muted tones, or a very specific palette of colour are very popular these days, and with good reason – they are very attractive to the eye. However, muted colours are not the favoured scheme of kids, and aren’t they the main audience for these books? Just comparing the book above with this one, you can no doubt see why my kids loved Hat Cat best – its pictures are bursting with small and vibrant detail, enticing to look at over and over again.
My grandfather is 99 and lives alone with his cat, so for that reason I have a soft spot in my heart for this book as well; I can easily picture him sitting in his chair, with his cat on his lap, just like the picture above. It’s an image that brings me peace and contentment to think about, and the innocence of this story conjures up a nostalgic feeling I look forward to returning to time and time again. Also – cats!