by Sam Juliano
Cat lovers will be utterly charmed. Classical music aficionados will be transported. Those who profess an affinity for both will find Leslea Newman’s Ketzel the Cat Who Composed nothing short of a revelation, though few would ever fathom the story’s central conceit was a factual one. Though it is the kind of thing that would sit comfortably as a miraculous one off in the Guinness World Book of Records, it is story steeped in humanism and its conceivable sphere of possibilities. One could easily enough conclude that the book’s central event was just a lucky occurrence, a triumph over the law of probability or a validation of fate. Either way, Ketzel the Cat Who Composed is a life-affirming work with a deeply emotional center. While preparing for this series I came upon it by accident. After securing a planned purchase of another title at Manhattan’s Books of Wonder, I quickly browsed the shelves, and was taken by the cover and the subject. You see I am one who did find the book a lightening bolt of sorts, as a lifelong multiple cat owner and classical music fanatic. Such a story was too irresistible to ignore. Then there were the amazing illustrations. I have since discovered that the book had received fabulous reviews and strong word of mouth by online picture book lovers. And it was even named by some as one of the year’s recommended titles.
Moshe Cotel lives in solitude on the third floor of an apartment building on a cacophonous street in a city that never sleeps. Yet sounds of all variety are music to the ears of a composer, which is in effect what his own teacher had taught him. Moshe began his day sitting at his piano listening the sounds outside and inside himself, and turned them into rapturous music. His routine was always to leave the apartment when his composition session was complete, not only for exercise but to listen to all the sounds for possible inspiration. One day after hearing an unusual, more intimate sound Moshe came upon a black and white kitten nestled in a box around a corner. He named him Ketzel and took him back to his apartment, where he sat the small creature down on the top of the piano to witness his work in progress, sharing the advice that the teacher had given Moshe. (more…)