The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby, illustrated by Gerald Kelley, 2016
Children’s novel for grades 4-8: historical fiction, animal stories
The year is 1847, and Jacob is the runt in a litter of kittens born to Mrs. Tibbs, the beloved ship’s cat aboard the Melissa Rae. The captain doesn’t plan to keep any of the kittens, certainly not little Jacob, but his daughter persuades him, and Jacob is still aboard when the Melissa Rae sails out of Liverpool. Jacob Tibbs’ first journey is a rough one. Between storms, the loss of his mother, the captain’s illness, and the first mate’s abuse of authority, Jacob’s kittenhood is a series of challenges. Eventually, the first mate accuses some of the crew of mutiny and puts them out to sea in a lifeboat, along with the ailing and unconscious captain. They briefly take refuge on an island and are later rescued by another ship. But they face accusations of abandoning their ship when they arrive home.
This historical fiction story will appeal to animal lovers, historical fiction readers, readers who love survival stories, and anyone with an interest in ships. I’m not normally a huge fan of stories told from the perspective of an animal, but this book does it well. The depiction of the cat is almost realistic, although the cat is given enough background knowledge to make the book informative. Anyone who loves cats will find the tiny yellow cat to be a likable narrator.
In my opinion, the writing style is reminiscent of older classics. I would consider this book to be comparable to popular horse books like Black Beauty and Misty of Chincoteague. Young readers will find that there will be a lot of new vocabulary words and unfamiliar concepts relating to ships, and the sentence structure is often relatively complex. But the plot is accessible and appealing to even young children, so I would recommend this as a read-aloud for kids who aren’t quite at the reading level to read it independently.
Additional information for teachers and parents:
Lexile Score: 1020L
Other leveled reading information is not currently available, but you can consult this chart for estimates. Look towards the end of the chart, around Z1, and please keep in mind that these numbers and levels are estimates and based on algorithms that do not take all possible factors into consideration.