SCOTT SIMON, host:
So often we take those closest to us for granted. It's not until they're gone that we recognize how rich they've made our lives. Absent lovers, distant friends, missing family, our pets. "Mr. Pusskins" is a new book for children about appreciating what we have. It's written and illustrated by Sam Lloyd.
Daniel Pinkwater is our ambassador to the world of children's literature. He joins us now from his home in upstate New York. Daniel, have I told you how much I enjoy our get-togethers, that I've missed not talking to you for a couple of weeks?
DANIEL PINKWATER: Oh Scott. Gosh.
SIMON: I was hoping you'd verbalize just a little more than gosh.
PINKWATER: But what I wanted to say was zenga(ph).
SIMON: Zenga, yes.
PINKWATER: Scott, did you know that I was a Zen Buddhist?
SIMON: No, I didn't know that you were a Zen Buddhist.
PINKWATER: Well, I am a Zen Buddhist, and as such I am familiar with zenga, which is a form of Japanese, or probably Chinese too, ink paintings. Ink paintings on rice paper done with a brush and with a great spontaneity. Now, I don't know whether Sam Lloyd, the perpetrator of this book, an English woman, knows about Zen drawings, but she sure can do them.
And as I have been at pains to tell editors over the years, picture books are about pictures, and this one has them.
SIMON: It's a delightful book.
PINKWATER: On the cover is this rotten cat.
SIMON: He's scowling.
PINKWATER: He's scowling good. I think we're into reading this, are we?
SIMON: Sure. I think so, by all means.
PINKWATER: So this is "Mr. Pusskins," written and illustrated by Sam Lloyd. Who leads off?
SIMON: You lead off.
PINKWATER: I lead off.
PINKWATER: This is the story of a little girl called Emily and her dear cat Mr. Pusskins. Emily adored Mr. Pusskins.
SIMON: Each morning she would invent fun games for Mr. Pusskins to play. In the afternoon, she'd brush his long fur coat and tell him, Oh, Mr. Pusskins, what a handsome boy you are. I do love you ever so much.
PINKWATER: And in these pictures we see that Mr. Pusskins is barely tolerating the intentions of Emily.
And each night Emily would snuggle up in bed and read Mr. Pusskins a special story.
SIMON: But Mr. Pusskins never listened. The girl's constantly babbling - blahdy, blah, blah, blah - bored his whiskers off. He wanted more than this dull life.
PINKWATER: So one night he left.
SIMON: He went places he wasn't meant to go and he did things he wasn't meant to do and made friends with the Pesky Cat Gang.
Hey, should we talk about some of these illustrations?
PINKWATER: I think we should.
SIMON: Oh my gosh. He's in the trashcans, he's making a clutter, tearing up a garden. You see a woman opening her windows in horror and shock and then...
PINKWATER: You see four cats as evil as he.
SIMON: Under a street lamp, of course.
PINKWATER: Life without Emily was such naughty fun.
SIMON: Meow, meow, meow, meow...
PINKWATER: And we also have in small type: hush, be quiet. Shh, pipe down.
SIMON: But time passed and things changed. The rain fell and an icy wind blew. The things Mr. Pusskins wasn't supposed to do weren't fun anymore. And his new friends weren't really very nice.
PINKWATER: How lovely it would be to have someone brush his fur and tell him how much they loved him. He felt all alone.
SIMON: And doesn't he look pathetic? His tail, his ears...
PINKWATER: He's pathetic.
SIMON: Yeah. And then I - it's a little tricky to read this because you have to turn the book every which way because it twists.
Then down the gray streets fluttered a tatty old poster. It was a picture of Mr. Pusskins. Lost: Mr. Pusskins, phone: 693900.
That's a Brighton number, I think.
He stared at the photo. What a bad-tempered cat he looked. Emily had given him everything a cat could ever dreamed of. But he had never been nice to her. How sorry he felt.
And this is a double spread of the dejected Mr. Pusskins, which gets my vote for a prominent place in the finest museum.
SIMON: Oh, it's just wonderful.
PINKWATER: He is a one sad pussycat.
SIMON: Yeah, downcast cat.
PINKWATER: Mr. Pusskins found a phone. He dialed the number from the poster and waited anxiously. Someone answered, meow.
SIMON: Whimpered Mr. Pusskins in a very sad little voice. Mr. Pusskins, is that you? Oh, thank goodness, said Emily. Wait there. I'd come get you.
PINKWATER: Mr. Pusskins sat patiently, and he's sitting. Would Emily find him? Did she still love him? Now it's night. Now the sun is coming up. He waited and waited but Emily didn't come.
SIMON: Then from over the mountains, and you see the mountains and the sun rising. Then from over the mountains he heard a car. Mr. Pusskins heart leapt. It was Emily. His dear Emily was coming for him.
PINKWATER: The car got nearer and nearer and then vroom, vroom...
SIMON: Sped straight past. Meow, wailed Mr. Pusskins.
PINKWATER: Emily doesn't love me anymore.
SIMON: But then the car screeched to a halt and Emily jumped out. Mr. Pusskins, my beautiful Mr. Pusskins.
PINKWATER: She cried.
SIMON: I didn't recognize you.
PINKWATER: Emily scooped up her dear cat. At last they were together again.
SIMON: This is the end of the story of a little girl called Emily and her dear cat Mr. Pusskins. Mr. Pusskins adores Emily. Every evening he cuddles her and purged gently while she reads to him.
PINKWATER: Now both Emily and Mr. Pusskins realize how lucky they are to have each other.
SIMON: That last illustration, Daniel.
PINKWATER: Mr. Pusskins has sweetened up.
SIMON: And Emily is hugging him.
PINKWATER: Emily, the nine-year-old who drives a car, has her cat back.
SIMON: It's a delightful story, and as you say, so much as conveyed just by the vibrancy in the illustrations.
PINKWATER: It doesn't take much. It's your classic girl-loses-cat, girl-gets-cat story. It's a wonderful character. The drawing is just delicious and delightful. This is a lovable book.
SIMON: Well, Daniel, thanks so much for bringing it to us.
PINKWATER: Scott, this was fun.
SIMON: The book is called "Mr. Pusskins." Written and illustrated by Sam Lloyd, published by Simon and Shuster. Daniel Pinkwater has written many fine books for children and for adults. His newest novel, "The Neddiad," will be published next month. The preview is already available at Pinkwater.com.
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