Vancouver Island children’s author Troy Wilson has released a new book, inspired by a Port Alberni man who fed squirrels from his hat.
Wilson—who was raised in Port Alberni, but now resides in Saanich—released his ninth and newest book, Hat Cat, on Feb. 22. The book, published by Candlewick Press, was inspired in part by Wilson’s late grandfather, Tom Richmond.
Richmond moved to Port Alberni from Nanaimo in 1927 and worked in the sawmill industry for more than 40 years before his retirement. After retirement, one of the ways Richmond passed the time was by feeding squirrels out of his hat. Richmond even built an enclosure for the squirrels so the birds couldn’t steal their food.
In Hat Cat, a nameless old man lives alone and feeds squirrels from his hat. One day, he finds a stray kitten beneath the hat. The two become fast friends. Every day, the kitten (named Hat) watches the old man go outside to feed the squirrels. But Hat is not allowed out. What if Hat runs away, or chases the squirrels—or worse?
One day, the old man leaves and doesn’t come home for a while. When new people come to take care of Hat, will one little girl give him the chance he’s been hoping for?
Although the old man in the book shares many similarities with Wilson’s late grandfather, there are some differences.
“Unlike the old man in the book, my grandfather was not a big fan of cats,” Wilson laughed.
Like Wilson, Richmond was also a storyteller. Richmond told stories through the spoken word, transporting his audience to the past through his tales. Wilson’s grandfather passed away in 2003, but Wilson still remembers him fondly.
“He would take me places that I would not otherwise have gone, whether it was some forgotten fishing hole, or taking me back to the past with his stories,” said Wilson. “Even now, after his passing, he’s still doing that.”
Wilson says there’s no way he would be able to capture his grandfather in a picture book.
“But it does give people a small peek into the kind of man he was,” he said. “It’s inspired in parts, but it’s not about him.”
Hat Cat was also inspired in part by two other children’s books: Waiting for the Whales by Sheryl McFarlane and The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss.
Waiting for the Whales also features a nameless old man who begins the book alone and has a special connection with animals.
The Cat in the Hat, meanwhile, provided inspiration for the book’s name.
Wilson says Hat Cat is very different from his previous books, as it is gentler and more heartfelt than his usual humourous fare.
“It has a lot more heart and a lot less humour,” he said.
When the story first occurred to Wilson, he knew it was going to be a difficult one to write. He gives credit to his editor, Kate Fletcher of Candlewick Press, for helping to shape the story and whittle it down.
“It ended up at exactly the right place,” he said.
He also gives credit to illustrator Eve Coy for providing the artwork for Hat Cat.
“I admire her work a lot,” he said. “It’s so warm, and I love the things she’s done with the character design. She did a lovely job.”
The book is aimed at ages four to eight, although Wilson says it can be enjoyed by anyone.
“I always like to say that picture books ought to be read by everybody,” he said. “There are so many wonderful ones out there.”