What I like best about “Millions of Cats,” is that, when we read it, Alice makes a sound like millions of cats.
What I like next best is the matter-of-fact fracas the story turns on. And its reserved tenderness. Also how it never cloys.
It was first published in 1928, and artist Wanda Gág, who wrote and illustrated it, is considered a pioneer in the field of children’s literature. She was also a Minnesotan. I am no expert, but I sort of think you can tell.
I picked up our copy a couple of months ago at a used book store on the north side of town. It seems to have belonged to a little girl named Allison who drew her ls with lavish, curling tails. Does she miss it, do you think?
I used to love spending nights with my grandparents. If it was Nana’s house, that meant waking up with lots of cousins and stirring up disgusting batches of homemade Play-Doh out of flour and vegetable oil and whatever else in the kitchen seemed reasonable. Or being driven to the Pic ‘n’ Save and handed a few dollars each to mete out agonizingly in exchange for heart-shaped erasers and closeout eyeshadow.
And if it was Grandma’s, there was coffee and cookies at the kitchen table. Reading the newspaper and flipping through Family Circle until Grandpa got back from wherever it was he went so early and we all ate breakfast together. My grandma has never been fussy about me getting into her old photo albums and keepsakes. (Just this weekend, completely uninvited, I rooted around her sewing table and snagged a few dress patterns. I mean, I know better, right? But when I walked out with them, all she said was “There’s more in there, m’ija. Go back and look.”)
Once, in a closet, I found a department-store shirt box full of some old school things of my mom’s. Spelling quizzes and a poem she wrote as a preteen concerning the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.
Maybe she won’t remember this:
When I was younger, my mom tried a few times to put “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” in my hands. She even dug up her old copy. A handful of pages had been ripped out near the front, but they were all collected and tucked back in.
Anyway, I could never get into it.
But I get now what it feels like to want to share something like that.
When I bought “Millions of Cats,” I also found a paperback edition of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” It’s a smoother-going read this time around.