By September 20, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Best of Show #1: Madeline and the Cats of Rome

I’ll admit, you can’t use it in your reading group.  Madeline and the Cats of Rome

That said, it was my favorite book of the annual 2008 Portland fall tradeshow of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Association.

Sure, I’m Italian. And sure, I’m a lifelong cat admirer. I won’t pretend I’m not aware that Rome is the one major city in the world whose charter legally protects homeless cats. And how could I deny the thrill of meeting a grandson who grew up in the glow of his grandfather’s Madeline books and spent three years living in Italy to re-create in his grandfather’s style the first all-new Madeline adventure in 50 years?

In Madeline and the Cats of Rome, John Bemelmans Marciano uses a little gypsy girl thief who steals Miss Clavel’s purse as the charming device to propel the plot into a mad chase through the ancient glories of that beautiful city.

Young Marciano was there in Portland himself to be honored for his book, and used his moment in the podium addressing about two hundred booksellers as an opportunity to discuss not the famous Bemelmans but his other grandfather, his Italian grandfather, the one survivor in his family of the horrendous Straits of Messina tsunami, triggered by a 7.5 earthquake, which took the lives of a recorded 70,000 people (current estimates run closer to100,000), leveling the city of Messina in Sicily and the city of Reggio in Calabria one hundred years ago in 1908, the worst natural disaster in European history. He described the scene passed down through his Italian family: his great-grandmother had just given birth to another child the night before the 45-foot-tall wave dragged mother, child, and all his other brothers and sisters out into the Strait of Messina. Marciano’s grandfather was the sole survivor because he became stuck in a tree, where he clutched hold of his eight-year-old brother as long as he could before the boy was torn from his arms.

I hope I’ve done justice to the story that stunned the convention banquet room. Not a fork tinkled against a glass, let me tell you. That place was pin-drop still.

Tomorrow I’ll shock you with my second favorite Portland tradeshow book.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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