Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess – Janet Hill, Tundra Books, 2019
Already experienced at enlisting pets to guide readers towards a better life, Janet Hill, author and illustrator of Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess, is back, this time with felines. In a series of twenty terse lessons, Miss Mink, a successful entrepreneur with her own cruise company, found that she needed the example of her own cats to step back and enjoy life. Whether brushing her hair in front of an elaborate vanity, exercising in a flapper dress, or sipping tea while listening to an art deco radio, Miss Mink offers advice to young and old readers on complementary levels. Adults who need a reminder of what matters and kids who see the appeal of cats dressed in human clothes can enjoy Miss Mink together.
Hill’s jazz age settings and gauzy colors are the setting for her brief and clear messages. “Show kindness, even to your enemies,” features Miss Mink seated at a sidewalk café, where a large white poodle on its hind legs eats from her table without disturbing the cats sipping milk through a straw or eating pastries from her delicate hand.
Another lesson encourages readers to nap, and what better way to be assured of a good rest than by wearing an eye mask, even if you are a lion? Large cats and small are shown deep in slumber in Miss Mink’s office, while she puts her feet up on her stately desk and shuts out the world.
Her ship itself, christened “The Cat’s Meow,” highlights her cat friends on deck watching a giant octopus, along with the message to “Let your curiosity lead you to exciting new places,” an idea which Miss Mink endorses with her parasol in one hand and her spyglass in the other.
So what makes this a book for children? Admittedly, the clever references to nineteen twenties style seem more aimed at adults. Miss Mink visits the Mona Lisa to understand a sense of mystery, and poses on a steamer trunk in front of a closet full of shoes as an example of “daily exercise.” Yet in each picture, the cats are doing something antic and silly, whether hiding in a cookie jar, swinging from a chandelier, or dancing to Miss Mink’s accompaniment on the accordion. The final two-page spread of Miss Mink and her cats waving “Bon Voyage” from their ship is followed by a complete cast of characters, including Butterscotch Ripple, Mean Marcia, Sargent Smooshface, and Snowshoe. Don’t underestimate your child’s sense of humor, or her interest in pictures that place the familiar figures of cats in unfamiliar settings. And who doesn’t need a lovely reminder to “Express yourself in creative ways, or to “Chase your dreams,” even with a cat on your shoulder?