Review by MICHAEL COUSINEAU
Decemeber 8, 2006
Nita Choukas' book is more than a cat-and-mouse story.
Throw in an asthmatic boy separated from his beloved cat Beau and a horse named Bayberry forced to make new friends at his new home.
Penned as a children's book by a 75-year-old Hanover grandmother, "Bayberry & Beau" offers a few life lessons for adults as well.
About friendship, adapting to new surroundings and making peace with your natural enemies
Like when Beau the cat was in danger of being shipped out if he didn't start killing mice around the barn. Rather than eat the mice, he cooked up a scheme with head mouse Marvin for the cat to put a mouse in his mouth from time to time and parade past his own human keepers to show he was earning his keep.
"It's defying a natural law," Choukas said by phone last week. "It's an unusual friendship."
The $15.95 book tackles other issues, such as facing the consequences of crossing boundaries and handling jealousy when your best friend makes other acquaintances.
"It's about caring and friendship and I like to think it gives a feel of New England and New England values in the characters and people," she said.
The book's main characters are based on a true story of a cat who sat atop a 23-year-old quarter horse that had to relocate from Connecticut to New Hampshire.
She said she thought her decision to put a photo of the real-life pair on the book's back cover might ruin it for readers.
1 didn't want them to look at the real thing and miss what they could imagine," she said, though, acknowledging the true story angle attracted many people to the book.
"I just hope that their imagination leads them to the barn and picture what's happening and feel what's happening between the animals," she said.
Choukas had first self-published the book in paperbackhis year, but her distributor, Chelsea Green Publishing of White River Junction, Vt., decided to take over publishing and put out a hardcover version.
Born in Maine, Choukas moved from Maine to Franklin when she was 10. She graduated from Franklin High School in 1948 and the Mary Hitchcock School of Nursing in Hanover in 1951.
She has lived the past three decades in Hanover, participating in theater both in acting and directing roles.
"With three children and 10 grandchildren, I've been a storyteller and incorporated my hammy acting ability into my stories," she said. "My children always liked my stories better than having me read to them."
The book's 100 pages are breezy reading and mixed with illustrations from artist Gillian Tyier.
Choukas said she wrote most of her book in the Baker Library at Dartmouth College, where she had audited courses.
"I could go up the and write for eight hours," she said. “I might throw it all out the next day, but I can't work at home. The phone rings too much.”
But in the end, Choukas finished her book and her characters lived peacefully together.