Big Cat Pepper
Big Cat Pepper has always been a part of the family. But he seems to be sleeping more and more. And then one day he just doesn't wake up again. "His spirit lives forever," the boy's mother tells him gently. Heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, the complex issue of death for young readers is addressed here in a loving, accessible way.
“Because of their loyalty and innocence, the death of a pet is especially poignant, and Partridge gets it just right with this tale of a boy and his beloved cat, Pepper. Using simple rhymes, the comforting daily routines described at the outset forewarn tragedy. Sure enough, one day Pepper no longer wants to play. Partridge does not sugarcoat what happens next: “Is he gonna die, Momma, / is he gonna die? / Mama said she thought so, / cry, oh cry.” The discovery of the dead animal is not shown, but we do see the boy cradling a wrapped bundle that he and his mother place into a flower-bed hole. The rest of the book entails the boy’s grief with emotional pencil illustrations of too-dark nights and too-empty rooms. It’s all pretty darn sad, but the story is buoyed by a stirring ending: hoping to understand Pepper’s “spirit,” the boy closes his eyes and realizes the breeze feels just like his cat’s fur and whiskers. Pets come and go; best to have this one on hand."
"Mama, me, and Pepper, / always been this way. / Never been without him, / even for a day.’ A young African-American boy sure loves his big cat Pepper, but one day Pepper won’t play. The next day Pepper won’t drink or purr. After the inevitable occurs, mother and son bury the cat in a flowerbed. When the boy asks if Pepper will be scared down there, Mama responds, “No, sugar, no, / I’ll tell you why. / His spirit is forever— / it can fly, fly, fly.” The boy doesn’t understand until o day he holds still: The grass tickles his ankles like Pepper’s fur, and he hears Pepper’s purr in the wind. The boy’s heart opens up, and he knows Pepper will always be with him. Castillo’s mixed-media illustrations of a rural, single-parent family are smudgily warm and comforting. The entirely secular explanation of death and the fact that there is no substitution pet added to the family in the end make this a very worthwhile addition to bibliotheraputic literature for the young.”