An Early Reader Book that Breaks All the Rules

Y’all. I AM IN LOVE…

…with an imaginary character named Mr. Putter.

(Well, and my husband, but that’s a different story. And I could see him becoming Mr. Putter some day, so I’m a fortunate woman.)

So, let me introduce you to Mr. Putter. He’s old, bald, and mustached with a pair of readers. In the beginning, he lived alone. He likes English muffins and tea, but didn’t have anyone to share them with. He loves telling stories, but didn’t have anyone to tell them to.

He was tired of living alone.

How could he fix his problem?

“Mr. Putter wanted a cat.”

And those five words spawned 25 easy-reader books for kids ages 5-7 (and, well, everyone else).

His first book, Mr. Putter & Tabby Pour the Tea, debuted in 1994. Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard tag teamed the entire series.

Now, let me tell you why I love Mr. Putter.

First, I generally love older people. Seriously. In the least patronizing way possible, I think they’re precious.

The entire first book tells of Mr. Putter adopting Tabby, who is also old and lonely. He doesn’t want a kitten, like the pet-store lady suggests. When she shows him 14 kittens, he responds:

“These are kittens,” he said. “I was hoping for a cat.”
“Oh, no one wants cats, sir,” said the pet store lady. “They are not cute. They are not peppy.”
Mr. Putter himself had not been cute and peppy for a very long time.
He said, “I want a cat.”

Then he goes to a shelter and discovers Tabby, an old yellow cat.

Its bones creaked, its fur was thinning, and it seemed a little deaf.
Mr. Putter creaked, his hair was thinning, and he was a little deaf, too.
So he took the old yellow cat home. He named her Tabby.
And that is how their life began.

See? Even in the twilight of their lives, the old man and his cat began a new life together. Presh.

Second, this series has an old-man protagonist. And it’s unapologetic about this fact. I can’t imagine pitching a young-reader series idea that tells simple stories about an elderly man and his ancient cat. The 1990s were a different time, Surely this wouldn’t go over well in 2021.

But how unfortunate!

Whenever I try to introduce my kids to a new movie or show, they ask who the bad guy is. It’s incredibly rare that I get to say, “There isn’t a bad guy!” (Except Frozen 2, as I’m pretty sure Elsa is the bad guy.)

Third, in subsequent books, Mr. Putter and Tabby meet their active, spunky neighbors, Mrs. Teaberry and her good dog, Zeke, who is my kindergartener’s favorite character. I picture Mrs. Teaberry as the fun-loving, casserole-toting widow who insists her neighbor get out and live his life instead of chasing kids off his lawn.

Here’s what my son has to say about the series: “It’s about an old man with an old cat with an old neighbor with a young dog. That’s basically what it is. The dog is crazy. Old people aren’t that crazy.”

What more is there to say?

(Except that I think Mrs. Teaberry has a thing for Mr. Putter…but you didn’t hear it from me!)

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Currently Reading:
Goodness, what book am I not reading right now? I guess I’ll mention Tidewater Bride by Laura Frantz. It’s a little slow moving, so fingers crossed I stick with it. However, it’s set in James Town in the 1600s, and the author does a fabulous job setting the tone. Her dialogue is spot on. We’re following an almost-spinster named Selah as she traverses politics (English settlers vs. Native Americans) and manages a new shipment of mail-order or “tobacco” brides from Europe (the farmers paid for their brides with tobacco, apparently). Of course, love is also sparking in her own life. I’m enjoying it, but if you look at my GoodReads list, you can see that I’m a little all over the place these days.

Published by Christine Boatwright

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