This time of year always reminds me of a cat I once knew named Inez. At least, that’s what we called her, or “Eenie” for short, since she was on the small side. We adopted her from the shelter when she was six months old, but she turned out so wild we couldn’t keep her indoors.
And yet, she never met a stranger. As the weather warmed each spring her range expanded, and because I was foolish enough to put my phone number on her ID tag, March was a big month for calls from concerned citizens reporting the very friendly cat hanging around their yard, following them into their house, or trying to get into their car, usually within a few blocks of home, but sometimes over a mile away.
As far as I know, ours was the only household where Inez ate and slept, but I can’t be too sure. She was such a roamer it would have been no surprise to learn she had other nearby names and beds. Every few years a new picture book takes a swipe at telling that story, since tales of cats with multiple identities are catnip to kids learning that like us grown-ups, they must play a variety of roles throughout the course of each day. Here are a few of my favorites:
Archie’s many names strung together form the title of this 2016 British import. Unbeknownst to the residents of Blossom Street, he plays cat to them all, except for the lonely woman “no one ever visits” at number 11. Turns out, when Archie finally wanders over there, he likes her best of all. The rest of the block search for their “missing” cat, and meet someone they’ve always overlooked. With its diverse cast of characters and affirmation of community, this book is a great feel good story in addition to being one of the best cat books to come along in years.
Like Archie, Tony Johnston’s friendly feline protagonist receives a name from each of the six people who love him. An elderly man, a librarian, a homeless veteran, an opera fan, a policewoman, and a young girl new to the neighborhood lavish attention on their own Kitty-boy, aka Stuart Little, aka Dove, aka Placido, aka Mooch, aka Mouse, until he is almost struck by a car driven by his real “owner.” She calls him Regis, scolds him for running away, then promises to bring him back soon to hang with all his new friends, who have now finally met and realized how well they all fit together.
Published in 1991, Six Dinner Sid is a classic in the cat-with-many-names genre. Each of Sid’s six names (Scaramouche, Bob, Mischief, Sally, Sooty, and Schwartz) comes with a regular free meal and a place to crash on Aristotle Street. Moore illustrates Sid’s beds, dinners, and humans side by side for kids to compare. When Sid falls ill, also on view are the six modes of transportation used to take him to a single veterinarian, who uncovers Sid's ruse.
At least old Inez was always honest about her identity. We found out how well-known she was when my sister-in-law started teaching at Lawrence High School, a few blocks from where we live. When she overheard another teacher talking about a frequent feline visitor to her French class named Inez, we figured Eenie was just getting ready for a trip to Paris.
—Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.