"The Blue Cat of Castle Town"
by Catherine Cate Coblentz (1897-1951)
Illustrated by Janice Holland (1913-1962)
New York: Longmans, Green, 1949. Copyright not renewed. [Newbery Honor Book, 1950]
"Sing your own song," said the river...
"With your life fashion beauty...
"All that is worth doing, do well ..."
So sings the river to a small blue kitten. The small blue kitten must go to Castle Town, and teach a human to sing the river's song, if he is ever to have a warm place by a hearth. To whom shall the kitten sing the river's song? Who, in the town, will listen, and learn to sing? Will darker songs, of speed and greed, predominate?
The Blue Cat of Castle Town" mixes history with fantasy, creating a delightful fable which will be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Catherine Cate Coblentz visited the real Castleto'n, Vermont, in the summer of 1946, and became intrigued by its history. Her attention was caught, in particular, by a carpet picturing a blue cat, made by Zeruah H. Guernsey Caswell (1805–ca. 1895).
Sometimes known as "The Caswell Carpet", the rug is part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of New York. An image of the rug can be viewed online at
http://www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/pinfo?Object=14759+0+none where it is described as follows:
"One of the most famous embroidered rugs is the Caswell Carpet, a portion of which is seen here. It was made in Vermont between 1832 and 1835 by Zeruah Higley Guernsey, who later married a Mr. Caswell; the rug is known by the latter name. The wool used in the rug was grown, spun, and dyed at home. Nearly eighty separate blocks were embroidered in a double chain stitch, or 'Kensington stitch,' on a coarse homespun foundation. Each block has its own complete design. While floral motifs predominate, diversity is achieved by modifying the floral forms and by varying their arrangement within each square. In some blocks, flowers or leaves stand alone; in others, they are combined with baskets, vases, birds, or butterflies. The overall design is further enriched through the inclusion of non-floral motifs such as kittens and puppies and, in one square, a bridal couple, believed to refer to the approaching marriage of the maker. On one end of the carpet is a long panel embroidered with a sawtooth border and a central design showing a basket filled with flowers and fruit. During the summer, when the fireplace was not in use, this panel covered the hearth; in winter it was folded under the body of the rug, in order to leave the hearth uncovered. The presence of the hearth panel indicates that the rug was not made solely for decoration, but that year-round utility was also a consideration in its design."
For a year and a half, according to Catherine Coblentz, "the Blue Cat sat on her pillow night after night, trying to purr his story into her not-unwilling ears." We can be thankful that she heard his song, and sang it for us, in "The Blue Cat of Castle Town." The book brought her much-deserved recognition when it became a Newbery Honor book in 1950. Regretably, the Blue Cat was one of the last books Catherine Coblentz wrote: she died on May 30, 1951.