Candace L. Newland has produced an upbeat picture book about living with a disability. Here, the eponymous cat – named after the tea “because he is orange and his purring is as comforting as a cup of tea” – overhears his new owner mention that he has a disability. Readers follow the cat as he tries to discover what it is.
To find out, Pekoe compares himself to a golden retriever called Maggie and a Sheltie called Cody, as with this passage that celebrates his ability to hear, despite having smaller ears than his two friends: “I can hear the birds outside singing. I can hear my people open a can of my dinner from clear upstairs. I can hear the wind swishing through the trees outside the screen door. Maggie’s ears are much bigger … Cody’s are just a little taller than mine. No, my small ears are not my disability.”
Charmingly illustrated by Suzanne Kinstle Nocera, the book goes on in this vein, with Pekoe discussing how he is just as capable as his friends, despite their differences, until Pekoe finally learns that his disability is blindness. But he is so capable of enjoying and functioning in life that he takes the revelation in stride, noting: “I’m glad it’s not something important that I’m missing.”
This message is a worthy one, however, the cat’s statement seems a little naïve. No matter how undauntedly people face their disabilities, such physical limitations can present difficult challenges.
More concerning is the fact that there is no explanation for how Pekoe, given his inability to see, is able to observe the differences between the two dogs and himself, which often involve visual cues, such as when Pekoe remarks on the size and color of Maggie’s nose.
The book’s conceit is admirable, as is its message that “A disability isn’t such a bad thing to have after all.” But the cat’s visual observations undercut this otherwise lovely production significantly. With careful revision, the story would be much easier to recommend.
Also available as an ebook.