"Nini was a plain white tom cat," writes Mary Nethery in an author's note, "who lived in a caffè, or coffee shop, in Venice in the 1890s and became a national celebrity. Calling upon Nini and signing his guest book was the thing to do. When Nini died, many important people paid tribute to him."
That set the Eureka picture-book author to thinking. "No one knows why Nini became such a star. So I asked myself the question 'What does a cat have to offer that no other creature possesses?' The answer? A purr, one of the most primal and soothing sounds in the universe, a gift that only a cat can give. That's what led to this story. All of the notable visitors were real people who came to see Nini, but the events in the story didn't unfold in the same way that I have presented them."
The tale is told in "The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star" ($17 in hardcover from Clarion Books).
A book event featuring Mary Nethery (www.marynethery.com) will be held this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library, 1108 Sherman Avenue. Especially suited for children aged 4-8, the reading is presented through the courtesy of Lyon Books of Chico, where copies of "The Famous Nini" are available.
Beautifully and whimsically illustrated by John Manders (www.johnmanders.com), the book tells the story of Nonna Framboni and her little nineteenth-century coffee shop. It's so small everyone seems to pass it by, until one day "Nini the Stray" shows up at her door and follows an obviously agitated man into the caffè. The man was Giuseppe Verdi, in search of just the right note. "Nini meowed. 'Ah, puss!' Verdi cried. 'You have given me the exact note I need!' He danced around the caffè with Nini in his arms."
More visitors followed after Nonna put up a sign in the window, including the King and Queen of Italy and Pope Leo XIII. The Emperor of Ethiopia visits, and Nethery imagines how Nini's soft purr changes the heart of the the Emperor's daughter.
Nethery takes delight in her story, and readers will find it the purr-fect tale.