"Alonzo Purr was the captain's cat on the ferryboat Liza Lee." The first line of prose is so pleasing to the ear, I don't even need to hear more of the story to decide I love this book. In fact, revisiting it now as an adult, (and after my patchy memory had formed a version where every page had a line like that), the actual text is a little less dreamy as the story continues. Still, I consider it a favorite and embrace the nostalgic comfort of the illustrations and color palette.
The text becomes increasingly wordy, but the story itself is charming and pure. Alonzo is a simple sea cat who enjoys the captain's attention and the routine of dependable fish dinners. He meets a cosmopolitan cat while docked at the city, who convinces him he leads a dull life at sea and states he should "learn something new." Alonzo is intimidated by what he doesn't know, and insecurity pushes him to try to meet these expectations of how a cat is supposed to be.
After this bombastic cat shows him around, he declares Alonzo to be a scaredy-cat who doesn't belong in the city. We watch Alonzo internalize these words with shame and defeat, but his thoughts are interrupted when a fellow cat falls into the pond nearby and needs help. The city cat scampers away, not knowing how to swim and being too prideful to let anyone find out. Alonzo, instead, springs into action, realizing he was made for this moment with all of his water know-how. He's triumphant in rescuing the cat, which in turn gives him the affirmation he needed to know there are many ways to be a cat.
Like the city cat urged, Alonzo does learn something new, and it's that he doesn't need to be anything but himself. He learns he is a brave cat who prefers open sea breezes and fish dinners and helping the captain keep up the ferryboat. It's too often we can let others' declarations and expectations about us cloud who we know ourselves to be. Just look at the wide-eyed contentment on Alonzo's face in his element by the sea... a reminder to love and listen to yourself.
Some of Marylin Hafner's illustration work with the same feeling: