Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin, author Marguerite Henry and illustrator Wesley Dennis describe a brief but important period of time in young West’s life. Twenty-two short, narrative chapters chronicle the development of events that lead to the discovery of West’s artistic talent and his decision to become an artist. In the book’s introduction, Henry sets the stage for the conflict felt by West’s parents between their son’s desire to draw and the firmly held Quaker belief that pictures are unnecessary. A number of persons are listed who played significant roles in helping young West in different ways. Although grateful to all who assisted him, West would probably have given most of the credit to his faithful companion, Grimalkin the cat.

Throughout Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin, young West’s sensitive nature is depicted. The book opens as he befriends an ailing kitten who becomes his beloved Grimalkin. Dennis’ lively pen-and-ink illustrations depict the cat and the boy as inseparable kindred spirits. Grimalkin is a main subject in most of the illustrations.

West’s early drawings were made using ink, charcoal, and indigo applied to sanded boards—all materials that were readily available to him at home. His dissatisfaction with these primitive materials leads to his making paints from nature, according to the instructions of Native American friends. Grimalkin poses for West and expresses approval...

(The entire section is 450 words.)