It will probably come as no surprise at all to those who know me that I was drawn to Lisa and Valerie Martin’s novel Anton and Cecil Cats at Sea as soon as it arrived. As I read it, I was reminded of the film The Adventures of Milo and Otis, about two animal friends who are unexpectedly separated, and who must journey to find their way back to each other, encountering an interesting cast of animal characters along the way. In Anton and Cecil, our adventurers are two brothers: Cecil, a plump and fluffy black cat who is daring and wants to be a sailor, and Anton, a sleek grey cat who loves being at home and enjoys listening to the men singing in the seaside pubs. This book had me smiling and “awwww”-ing, and more than once, I forced those around me to look at the absolutely adorable illustrations (created by the wonderful Kelly Murphy) that pepper the book .
In this cute middle grade novel, we meet a fraternal duo living in a lovely coastal town. Cecil is fascinated by the lives the sailors lead, and he takes any and every opportunity to go out on day trips with the fishing schooners. Anton, on the other hand, is more reserved, and he is frightened by the ships, in no small part because of the horror stories of “impressment,” which is when sailors force the local cats to be mousers on their ships. Cats who have been impressed are never seen from again, so Anton worries that his brother will one day be taken away from him forever. Impressment does divide the two brothers, but it is Anton who the sailors capture and force into service as a mouser, and despite Cecil’s best attempts to join his brother, they are separated! Cecil boards the very next big ship he sees in order to go after his brother and try to bring him back.
Through alternating chapters, Cecil and Anton travel the sea, meeting other animals (not always nice) and trying to survive the perils of the ocean. It may seem odd to say that I liked the character growth given that the two main characters are cats, but I genuinely did! Their personalities were distinct and very well-formed, which made it easier to spot the changes as they grew through their adventures. Cecil encounters danger that helps temper his brash nature, and Anton becomes more confident as he not only survives being impressed, but flourishes!
This is a fun book to read, and I can imagine it being a great choice for shared family reading, because I couldn’t help but share it with those around me.