January 20, 2013
Bambino and Mr. Twain by P.I. Maltbie, illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Because my father is a Mark Twain enthusiast, I picked this one up with high hopes. It wasn’t an easy book to get into because, as we enter the story, Twain is in a very low point in his life. His wife, Livy, who was also his editor, has died some months earlier. One of her daughters, also deeply grieving, had been admitted to a clinic that did not allow pets. She left Bambino, her cat, with her father.
The prickly feline did a pretty good job of mirroring Twain’s own moods. Content to lounge on the bed and bask in sunlight, it hissed at anyone’s attempts to shift it. Yet it accompanied Twain to his billiards table where it batted back his balls, somewhat lightening his mood.
One afternoon, the cat noticed a squirrel outside and leaped out an open window in pursuit.
Twain placed an ad concerning the missing cat in the local paper and fans proceeded to his home with cats of all kinds. One girl even offered to loan him her family pet, so that he would not be lonely, until his own pet could be found.
It sounds like a maudlin tale, and certainly it starts out that way, but the ending is sweet as is Twain’s uncompromising love for his moody companion.
This isn’t nonfiction but a piece of fiction based on true events.
Miyares mixed media and digital illustrations capture the varied moods of the piece. They also help make this story of a historic figure more contemporary and approachable for young readers.
Will young readers identify with this book? Maltbie has done an excellent job of creating a story about the love for a pet and how this animal helps him reconnect with other people and draws him to reenter the world. While specifically about Twain it is also generally and gently about loss and how each of us must find a way to cope.
Additionally, this book would be an excellent gift for a Twain fan. While it is fiction, it is strongly based on his life and as such has a lot to offer.
Why not pick it up and share it with someone who needs a little hope?