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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Klondike Cat

Reviewed: December 5, 2003
By: Julie Lawson / illustrated by Paul Mombourquette
Publisher: Kids Can Press
32 pages, $16.05

Julie Lawson’s stint as a Berton House Writer has produced yet another children’s picture book, this one is a more historical vein than last year’s Arizona Charlie and the Klondike Kid. This one seems to have come first, though I hadn’t seen it until now.

In this book Lawson attempts to boil the whole Gold Rush experience down into about 16 pages of text, enhanced by Paul Mombourquette’s great full page oil paintings.

Lawson personalizes the story by adding an extra struggle to it. When Noah and his father decide to head to the Yukon in 1898 Noah can’t stand to leave his cat, Shadow, behind. So Shadow really does have to become a shadow for awhile, invisible among Noah’s belongings until it’s too late to do anything about her being there.

Once aboard the ship to Skagway, Shadow disappears and obviously has some adventures that lead to her later condition.  Pa relents and the cat manages to make it over the Chilkoot Pass with them, his common sense excuse being that there were “No mice in our food supplies” when other stampeders kidded them about the cat.

Shadow has a litter of kittens just as the ice breaks up on Lake Bennett and the flotilla begins to make its way to Dawson. Noah hides them all the way to Dawson, where Pa is among the many to discover that all the good claims were staked along ago. In desperation he tries to find a way to finance their return to the Outside world.

It is while Pa is off doing this that Noah discovers how much he can sell a kitten for in Dawson City - and he has five of them. The result is enough money to see him and his father through the tough times before Pa can find a job or stake a claim.

Lawson and Mombourquette have produced a delightful little book here. It touches on the main points of the iconic legend while still telling its own story, and that’s the tough thing about trying to use this history well.

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