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Monday, 6 February 2017

Bob to the Rescue

Authors: James Bowen & Garry Jenkins
Illustrator: Gerald Kelley
Publisher: Red Fox Picture Books, 2015

Every inch of me loves this book. I love cats, buskers, rescue stories, real life stories, puppies...well not puppies, but the cat wearing a scarf makes up for that. The children were dubious at first, mainly because, their words,  "the pictures are too scary, and everyone in the book is afraid", but as with all first-time yarns, once re-read a couple of times familiarity sets in, and with this book that familiarity means we know of the hero ending, the happy reunion between girl and puppy, so the 'fear' fades. What we're left with is this lovely animal-to-animal rescue mission,  as brave scarf wearing former stray Bob, worries about the small shivering puppy he finds under a bush in the park. Not wanting to leave the puppy alone in the howling wind on a dark, rainy night, Bob ventures back outside to intervene. He finds the puppy, but has a hard time convincing the puppy he is 'a friend'. Turning away, Bob is chased by a 'big dog' ( the section of the book the children deem 'most scary'), but the yelping puppy comes to the aid of Bob just in the nick of time. And if that wasn't enough drama, there is still time for the puppy to be reunited with his owner. 

In terms of the graphics, the simple ink and watercolour illustrations used capture the human faces in the story especially well, bringing a realism to the piece. As such the dog chase page depicts a cowering Bob at the moment the baying big dog lunges, the realistic expressions are again, just a little too scary (for the preschooler age range), but have softened for us with familiarity. The illustrations are however, very rich and beautiful, well worth a look, capturing the night sky vividly. In contrast, here's the opening two pages with nice depth of perspective over the park:

The backstory of  'Bob the Rescue Cat' is enthralling, and brought in via snippets in the intro and outro. Author James Bowen had himself faced a period of homelessness, and was making a new way in life for himself as a busker when he met stray ginger tom cat (he later named Bob) back in March 2007. Having nursed the poorly stray cat back to health, James and Bob became very attached to one another, so much so, Bob accompanied James on his stints on the streets busking. (I think this where the knitted scarf and cat harness come in). Author Garry Jenkins then helped James Bowen pen the book 'A Street Cat Named Bob' in 2012, and the further books, fame, charity work, and feature film went from there (reference: Bob the Rescue Cat back page). 

At 3 years, 5 years, and 7 years respectively the children seem to be interested in the backstory of James Bowen's life as much as the rescue mission tale. They love the photos page showing Bob in several scarves and giving his owner a paws-up high-five. I think I'll try to move Alf (7) on to some of Bowen's work aimed at older children, at some point this year, as Bowen's biography has been a little 'edited' in these picture books, and I think there's hardhitting more exploratory themes to come. This is a great book for starting discussion about trust, friendship, loneliness, homeliness and bravery though; I think it has the potential to become a real classic. 

BBFC Rated 12A, so not suitable for the littlies, I'll leave you with the trailer from the newly released film: A Street Cat Named Bob

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