Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Fat Cat

We recently moved to Portland, Oregon, from a four-bedroom house in California with a big backyard, to a two-bedroom condo right downtown. Since we’re on the ground floor, our tiny balcony feels more like a back porch—it even has a gate that opens up into a condo courtyard with trees, bushes, flowers, and birds.

Condo living is full of rules, we’ve come to discover. This is not surprising, seeing as how a lot of families have to share the same close quarters. But as I flipped through the fat binder of condo rules, one in particular caught my eye: unaccompanied pets are not allowed in the courtyard.

The thinking behind this rule is clear—we all chip in to pay for landscaping, after all, and no one wants their view spoiled by damage done by a neighbor’s pet. So when we moved here, I resigned myself to the idea that our big old bull of a cat, Apollo (13 years old, 13 pounds and growing!), would have to become an indoor cat. No more prowling the grounds, sniffing the air and surveying his domain, as he had done in our old backyard. He would have to be king of the forest through a glass window pane.

The cat was not pleased about this new arrangement, and in the four months we’ve lived here, I’ve watched him grow less and less interested in looking out the window, less playful in general, in fact, and more likely to sleep the day away.

Granted, he is getting older, but it seemed like he was aging awfully fast. I felt terrible about this.

And so, my husband and I revisited the condo rules and decided that it was the concept of ‘unaccompanied’ that was the sticking point. If my lovely neighbor Laura could walk her cute King Charles Spaniel (named Charlie!) through the courtyard—on a leash—couldn’t I sit on my balcony with a cup of tea in the morning and let my cat outside? I decided that I could.

The cat has been sniffing. Exploring. He is just thin enough (barely!) that he can squeeze under the gate and sit beneath a shrub. I wasn’t surprised that he’d like our new routine, but what has surprised me is his sudden interest in once more looking out the window. He is king of his domain now and needs to keep a close eye on it.

As fascinating as it is to read about other people’s pets, this post does actually relate to nonfiction books for kids. The world outside the window held very little interest to Apollo until he experienced it for himself—until he could sniff the moist ground, feel the breeze, and hear and see (but hopefully not taste) the birds.

When we want kids to get interested in the world outside their classroom, sharing well-written nonfiction books can help. Textbooks may provide the dry facts necessary to pass a test, but a good nonfiction book can engage the senses and the imagination (and still provide the facts to pass the test!) Nonfiction books can make the world come alive.

If you’re a teacher, display nonfiction in your classroom. Reinforce the idea of reading nonfiction for pleasure—the simple pleasure of learning something new.

If you’re a librarian, include nonfiction books at story time. ‘Book talk’ longer titles.

If you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or even a second cousin, consider nonfiction books when choosing a gift for a young person.

And if you’re on my condo board, please don’t make me put my cat on a leash.


What's Going on in the LCM Library? said...

Love the image of Apollo exploring the new world outside his condo!

Thanks for the reminder about sharing non-fiction. When I first started working in my elementary school library, I read picture books week after week, while sitting in front of my non-fiction section. Students would raise their hands and plaintively ask, "Why don't you read that bug/dinosaur/shark/fire truck/puppy book up there behind you?" The light bulb went off, and I've added narrative non-fiction to my read-alouds, to the delight of my primary students.

Not to sound smarmy, but What to do About Alice? and The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins are two of my favorites to share with the upper grades!


Barbara Kerley said...

Hi Mary --

I love this story -- narrative nonfiction is a great choice for story time read alouds. And why not read a page of the bug/shark/puppy book, too (and then place it in a prominent place for check out!)

Glad to hear that Alice and Waterhouse work for your kids :)


HL said...

I'm fortunate to have a balcony--and her furriness can go out all the time. Pretty much anytime I'm home and awake the door is popped just a couple inches so she can go in and out. She loves it!

Deborah Heiligman said...

I love this post, Barb. I feel sad, though, because our cat Peanut Butter did not make the transition to city living. Going out on our lovely terrace was not enough for him--understandably, since in PA he had a whole woods to explore. We had to put him back in the country and we really miss him (but not his taking out his anger on my husband's backpack or our rug). I was in a school today (back to topic A) and I was so impressed by how much little kids (K,1) knew about fiction and non-fiction, and how they differ AND intersect. That was because of their librarian and their incredibly devoted teachers.

Susan E. Goodman said...

Nice one, Barbara!

Barbara Kerley said...

Thanks Deb. That is so great that even the little guys get the difference.

HL, love "her furriness." Hah.

Thanks, Susan :)