Some of you may have noticed a discussion of feline intelligence in the comments on my post introducing Kokoro. I’m citing Kokoro as the most intelligent cat I’ve known, while my father is championing Seymour, the cat of my childhood. In making his case for Seymour, Dad invokes a family legend regarding Seymour’s musical abilities. Now Dad provides additional information in support of his cause.
Full disclosure: What follows is hardly a disinterested book review. Given my close familial relationship with the author and protagonist, and given that the artist is a family friend, it could scarcely be otherwise. And yes, it’s also potentially a paid review: if you buy a copy through the links above or below, I’ll get a small cut out of Amazon’s share of the purchase price. If you choose to assume bias on my part and reject the book, though, you’ll be missing out on a pleasant experience. Biased or not, I promise to avoid the word most woefully overused in reviews of children’s books: “charming”.
“Seymour’s First Clarinet Concerto” is a tale of a cat and his boy. It’s a simple tale with an artfully concealed message about the importance of promises, friends, and promises to friends. The art is colorful and engaging. Children too young to appreciate the story will still enjoy the illustrations, but the text and the drawings hide enough jokes and references to amuse adults who are reading the book to their offspring for the thirty-seven thousandth time. Well, OK, maybe only twenty thousand times.
If there are a few minor deviations from reality here and there (I don’t believe the American Museum of Natural History admits cats, for example), what of it? The deviations are necessary to the story being told, and frankly, reality comes off worse in the comparison.
“Seymour” has been in the works for decades, and was – as Dad notes in the afterword – inspired by the real-life Seymour who did indeed listen as my sister and I practiced the clarinet (and other instruments). While he never offered explicit critiques, there was a certain amount of correlation between the quality of the music and the speed at which he swished his tail back and forth. He wasn’t our first family cat, but he’s the first one I remember. A very friendly creature he was, and never happier than when he had a lap to sprawl in.
Dad wrote the first version of “Seymour” in the 80s, but never found the right artist, or a publisher for it. Over the years, he pulled it out and tinkered with it, but it didn’t go anywhere until recently. When grandson Simon (my nephew) came along, Seymour gave Dad a metaphorical tail-thwack to the shins, demanding a place in Simon’s lap, and the project took on a new life.
Dad revised and updated the text, recruited Vic to illustrate, and hooked up with CreateSpace (who did a wonderful job putting the book together, by the way), and the result is not just a splendid gift for Simon, but also a wonderful tribute to Seymour.
Does “Seymour’s First Clarinet Concerto” clearly establish Seymour as more intelligent than Kokoro? I’d have to say that it does not, but it is a strong argument. Ball’s in your court, Ms. K-poof.
Buy yourself a copy. Get one for your child too. If you’ve got more than one child, get them each a copy. Don’t forget your nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, and you should even consider one for that annoying brat down the street who keeps walking on your lawn.
(And note: not only did I avoid “charming”, I also skipped “delightful” and “adorable”.)