Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Vicky Myron, Bret Witter, 2008
Grand Central Publishing
How much of an impact can an animal have? How many lives can one cat touch? How is it possible for an abandoned kitten to transform a small library, save a classic American town, and eventually become famous around the world? You can't even begin to answer those questions until you hear the charming story of Dewey Readmore Books, the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa.
Dewey's story starts in the worst possible way. Only a few weeks old, on the coldest night of the year, he was stuffed into the returned book slot at the Spencer Public Library. He was found the next morning by library director, Vicki Myron, a single mother who had survived the loss of her family farm, a breast cancer scare, and an alcoholic husband.
Dewey won her heart, and the hearts of the staff, by pulling himself up and hobbling on frostbitten feet to nudge each of them in a gesture of thanks and love. For the next nineteen years, he never stopped charming the people of Spencer with his enthusiasm, warmth, humility, (for a cat) and, above all, his sixth sense about who needed him most.
As his fame grew from town to town, then state to state, and finally, amazingly, worldwide, Dewey became more than just a friend; he became a source of pride for an extraordinary Heartland farming town pulling its way slowly back from the greatest crisis in its long history. (From the publisher.)
• Vicky Myron grew up on a family farm in northwest Iowa. She began as an assistant librarian at the Spencer library. Within a few years, she was promoted to director of the library. As a single mother, Vicky worked towards a masters degree for librarians during weekends and nights.
It was then that she met Dewey, who made his home at the library and kept her company late nights while she studied. Vicky has served on the Executive Board of the Iowa Library Association, and on numerous statewide advisory panels. She is one of six library management instructors in the Iowa library system. (From the publisher.)
• Bret Witter has ghostwritten nine books. Before becoming a professional writer, Bret spent three years as the Editorial Director of HCI, the publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Bret lives in Louisville, Kentucky. (From the publisher.)
One frigid Midwestern winter night in 1988, a ginger kitten was shoved into the after-hours book-return slot at the public library in Spencer, Iowa. And in this tender story, Myron, the library director, tells of the impact the cat, named DeweyReadmore Books, had on the library and its patrons, and on Myron herself. Through her developing relationship with the feline, Myron recounts the economic and social history of Spencer as well as her own success story-despite an alcoholic husband, living on welfare, and health problems ranging from the difficult birth of her daughter, Jodi, to breast cancer. After her divorce, Myron graduated college (the first in her family) and stumbled into a library job. She quickly rose to become director, realizing early on that this "was a job I could love for the rest of my life." Dewey, meanwhile, brings disabled children out of their shells, invites businessmen to pet him with one hand while holding the Wall Street Journal with the other, eats rubber bands and becomes a media darling. The book is not only a tribute to a cat-anthropomorphized to a degree that can strain credulity (Dewey plays hide and seek with Myron, can read her thoughts, is mortified by his hair balls)-it's a love letter to libraries.
One freezing night in 1988, an eight-week-old kitten was left in the book drop of the Spencer Public Library in Iowa. Head librarian Myron immediately fell in love with him, as did the rest of the library staff, and this is how Dewey Readmore Books became the Spencer library cat. Dewey grew into a handsome feline, making many friends in his 19 years at the library by sitting in many laps and greeting library visitors at the door with an uncanny knack for knowing just who needed his affections-children, the elderly, and those on the fence regarding a library cat. Dewey's fame grew from town to town, then state to state, and, amazingly, worldwide. Some of the most moving parts of this memoir express the intense, special bond that Dewey had with Myron, who survived the loss of her family farm, a breast cancer scare, and an alcoholic husband. This charming and heartwarming story of an extraordinary feline will be welcomed by cat lovers and all librarians who wish they had a library cat,
Eva Lautemann - Library Journal
Myron's beguiling, poignant, and tender tale of survival, loyalty, and love is an unforgettable study in the mysterious and wondrous ways animals, and libraries, enrich humanity.
An abandoned kitten serves as balm, comic relief and social director to a hard-pressed Midwestern town. The feline came in through the book drop on a bone-crackingly cold winter's night. The place was the public library of Spencer, Iowa, where the corn grows nine feet high and the earth is so fertile "you would swear the ground is about to push up and tip the sky right out of the picture." But this was in the 1980s, when the farm crisis was in full tilt; lenders had foreclosed on 50 percent of the family farms in northwest Iowa by the end of the decade. Local librarian Myron paints a town in crisis: economically, socially and in terms of the human spirit. She was in crisis too and neatly tucks her own recovery into the larger story of the town's gradual rejuvenation. Named Dewey (after the decimal system), the kitten became the library mascot and a synecdoche: "He never lost his trust, no matter what the circumstances, or his appreciation for life .... He was confident." Myron doesn't overplay this metaphor, but works it subtly as she depicts the town's fortunes reviving and shows Dewey playing his role in that revival with composure, social skills, patience and a measure of mischief. In an easeful voice and with an eye for detail, she delineates Spencer: its economic swings, the lay of the land, the Prairie Deco downtown. Dewey is the pivot; he even became a bit of a national celebrity, and the New York Times ran his obit. He was, this loving account demonstrates, the right cat in the right place for Spencer and most certainly for its librarian. Intimate portrait of a place snugly set within its historical moment, preserved in Myron's understated, well-polished prose.
1. What do you think of Dewey Readmore Books? Was he a special cat because of his personality, his circumstances, or both?
2. What was your favorite Dewey story? What was the funniest Dewey story? Which was most touching? Did his habits remind you of cats you have known or owned?
3. Vicki Myron believes she had a deep connection with Dewey. For example, he knew when he was going to the vet before she even said the word. Do you believe people and animals can have such a connection? If so, how do they read us so well?
4. Why do you think Dewey became so famous?
5. What does this book say about small town life? Has it changed your opinion of towns like Spencer, Iowa?
6. How much of an impact do you think Dewey had on Spencer? Do you believe he affected the town? If so, how?
7) At the beginning of the book, Spencer is going through hard times because of a collapse in land/housing values. Do you see parallels to our current economic situation? Are there lessons to be learned from this town?
8. Do you agree with Vicki that it was wise for the town of Spencer to vote against the jobs and incomes that a slaughterhouse and a casino would have provided? What about the decision to embrace big national stores like Wal-mart?
9. Vicki Myron says: “In our society, people believe you have to do something to be recognized, by which we mean something “in your face,” and preferably caught on camera.” Do you agree? Is this a good or bad thing? What about Vicki’s belief that Dewey was special precisely because he wasn’t like that?
10. Some people think Vicki Myron should not have included so many details of her life in the book. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
11. How do you think the circumstances of Vicki’s life affected her relationship with Dewey? How do you think the circumstances of Dewey’s life—particularly his night in the book drop box—affected his relationship with Vicki?
12. What did you think of the library board’s desire for Dewey to “retire” to Vicki’s house to live out the last months of his life?
13. This book has been described as “a love letter to libraries.” Has it reinforced or changed your attitude about the importance of libraries? Has it changed your opinion of librarians? Would you like for your local library to have a cat?
14. Did this book change your opinion of cats? How would you answer the question posed at the beginning of the book: how much of an impact can an animal have? Is your answer different after reading the book?
15. What do you think is the overall theme of the book? Is it hope? How animals can affect people’s lives? Is it about community?
16. Share some examples of how an animal has made a positive impact on your life or someone you know.
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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