In 1951 Hank Whitney was in elementary school and his mother was a teacher at P.S. 25 in Yonkers, N.Y., a suburb of New York City.
The city paper, the Yonkers Herald-Statesman, put out a call for a children’s Christmas story to be published in 12 chapters, one each day for 12 consecutive days. Hank’s mother, an English major and graduate of Barnard College in New York, enjoyed putting pen to paper, especially for children. So, between caring for three active boys and a husband, she came up with a plot line based on her real-life family. Or, more accurately, one of the family pets.
The story is a memorial to a real cat that sometimes seemed almost human and was empathetic when there was something amiss at home. When someone was ill, she played “doctor” by being a sympathetic “sitter.” The cat’s concern for others led to the story of “The Cat That Saved Christmas.”
It is a whimsical tale of a special cat that befriends a lonely boy at Christmas time, and together they go on a journey to Santa Land. When they arrive they learn how the cat was there once before and saved Christmas for kids around the world.
It is a story of disappointment, frustration, hope and joy aimed mostly at younger readers. But its message is universal and particularly resonates when the book is read by an adult to a child, especially one still learning to read.
After 66 years, in memory of his mother, Hank compiled the serialized story into a children’s book. Now a resident of Custer and with the assistance of Cheryl Smith, a former resident of Custer and author of several children’s books, he has recreated the original story including color illustrations to match the original black-and-white ones. Smith retyped the entire original manuscript and did the illustrations. Scotty Terrall, also a local author, assisted with format and proofing. Whitney and his family hope this humorous, fun-filled and educational story will provide joy to more generations of readers.
The book is available on Amazon and Whitney also has copies for those wishing to purchase locally. He can be reached at 673-3671 or via email at hankn