Lesson 1: Reading this series isn’t just for kids. Yeah, it’s categorized as juvenile to YA, and you’ll find the books in the children’s section of the library and the bookstore. But just like really great children’s literature is supposed to do, this series covers a variety of tough topics that, unfortunately, some kids will have to face, in ways that are developmentally appropriate, without talking down to the reader or trying to force them to understand.
There are allegories galore for racism and prejudice, adoption, divorce, being born out of wedlock, breaking the law and criminal punishment. And these books don’t sugarcoat at all when it comes to death — the cats die from old age, from disease, in childbirth, from accidents and even murder. The reason it’s considered “okay” by the powers-that-be in publishing is because the descriptions of such incidents are limited to what most pre-teens can handle reading, developmentally. And the reason I, as a parent, approve of it is because, sadly but factually, life can be really stinkin’ hard, and some of this stuff will happen to someone you know, and learning healthy ways of coping with it is important.
Grieving is normal, and acceptable, and will help you to go on. Maintaining a positive outlook isn’t just New Age malarkey; it really does lighten your mood and your thoughts and gives you hope and strength. When you lose someone or something, you don’t have to be bitter or resentful. You can choose to honor their memory by loving others the way they loved you. Many cats have to face that, and seeing how some of them carry on is wonderful.
Lesson 2: The choices we make don’t just affect us, they affect others.
In life, there are many instances when we’re not sure what’s the “right” thing to do, and often it’s not as clear-cut as don’t steal that watch or don’t cheat on that test. Forbidden love is a recurring theme in the series, and it’s not forbidden because “that cat is a majorly horrible jerk, they will break your heart and leave you completely shattered”; it’s forbidden because they belong to a different Clan. It equates to: “I don’t want you to see that person because they’re not from our city/religion/ethnic group.” It goes back to the metaphors for prejudice, and where it comes from, and that it may not be right or wrong, but many people live by it, and may not even realize the impact it’s having on their culture and their family.
Choosing to go against the crowd, when you believe it’s right, can also be daunting, but sometimes vital. When the Clans needed to find a new home and it required a long journey to get there, all four groups, so used to living separately, had to put aside their rivalries and work together to survive. Think about the Caucasians who have stood up for the civil rights of minorities in North America, even when their neighbors and colleagues didn’t understand or agree. Teaching kids that thinking for yourself, and sticking to it, is so valuable.
Lesson 3: There are many different ways to love and be loved.
Friendships, romances, marriages, family relationships — all this is love, just in different degrees and varieties. While there’s a very good chance you wouldn’t say you love your bratty little sister who threw a block at your head and won’t stop singing that annoying pop song, of course you do love her. And your spouse will often grate on your nerves, but that doesn’t mean you regret choosing them to share your life. This lesson is presented in a good way for kids to understand; the littermates frequently have squabbles (some of them pretty big), but they know blood forges strong bonds. Some of the pairs of mates (translates to married couple) face tough times, but it’s always clear they still care about each other. Even the concept of unrequited love is addressed; whether you decide to remain friends with someone who is interested in someone else, or whether you hold a grudge; one path leads to finding happiness, the other, well, not so much.
Lesson 4: Don’t dwell too much on the past. Live in the present. Be hopeful for the future.
Regret is a powerful emotion, one that often tears apart entire lives. If you keep beating yourself up for something that you can’t change, all it does is drown you in sorrow and make you bitter and irritable and makes others worry about you. Is regret a difficult thing to live with? Of course. But you don’t have to let your past mistakes define your future.
There are many cats that make decisions that later result in disaster. Sometimes the decisions were made impulsively, without thinking through all the possible consequences; other times the cat was very aware of what making the choice would mean, but they felt it was worth the risk. And more often than not, the decision was a difficult one, and the factors weren’t straightforward right or wrong, good or bad. Basing how you feel about yourself the rest of your life on what you later feel you should’ve done in one moment can be dangerous.
Lesson 5: It can be hard to figure out who to trust; listen to your instincts.
Throughout the series, a common theme is good cats versus bad cats. And we are not talking clawing the furniture and using the rug as a litter box. We’re talking cats who choose to lie, betray, brainwash, and murder their way to power and control. Most of the good cats can see these nasty pieces of work for what they are a mile away. But others aren’t so sure, and they need convincing, and unfortunately, that can lead to really awful things happening. And there’s one cat, a stranger who appears suddenly about halfway through the third series, that’s really hard to figure out. Is he an ally or an enemy? He’s clever and charismatic and easily gets other cats to listen to him. But the cost of believing his treachery runs high. Three of the main characters very nearly get ensnared in his web of deceit, and when they realize what he’s really up to, they not only blame him, but themselves. At least they saw the truth before it was too late.
Lesson 6: Sometimes life will not be what you expected; that’s okay. You can still make the most of the hand you’re dealt.
Starting with the Power of Three series, there are constant allusions to a trio of cats that will rise to become more powerful than any other, former or current, in the Clans. While this makes for great reading, in terms of exciting plot points and character arcs, it’s also very clear that these cats didn’t ask for this power, and it’s a weight on their shoulders. When you possess a skill or ability or condition that you can’t quite explain, or wouldn’t even see as a benefit, this can be a hard road to walk. Others may expect certain things of you; you aren’t sure you can deliver. Maybe you’re not even positive that you want to try.
Try. Just do the best you can. It’s all most people will expect of you. And in the end, you’ll probably not only pleasantly surprise them, you’ll really surprise yourself.