The Christmas Cat

Written by Maryann Macdonald
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
Dial Books for Young Readers

(Ages 4-7)

Leonardo da Vinci loved to draw La Madonna Del Gatto, or the Madonna of the Cat. He made many drawings of her in 1480 and 1481. In the drawings, the chubby child Jesus is depicted holding, stroking and playing with a cat.

A medieval legend tells about a litter of kittens born in the stable at Bethlehem the same night Jesus was born. If this were true, one of these kittens could have become a pet for Jesus. Born on the same night in the same place, what would their relationship have been like?  The Christmas Cat imagines the story of Jesus and his pet cat.

Reader’s Theater
Download the Reader’s Theater script of The Christmas Cat.


“Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci of the Madonna and baby Jesus holding a cat inspire this tender Nativity story about a kitten that becomes a beloved pet of the Christ child…Evocative illustrations in watercolor, gouache and pencil are filled with golden light, capturing the touching interactions between mother and baby, child and cat.

This warm, inviting interpretation offers a new slant on the familiar story, interesting to all but especially irresistible to cat lovers. (Picture book/religion. 4-8)

Starred Kirkus Review

“Macdonald turns a parent’s eye on the Nativity scene through the familiar struggle to calm an inconsolable infant. All efforts fail, until “a curious kitten crept out of the shadows”; later, the same cat keeps Jesus calm as the family flees Herod’s soldiers. Working in watercolor and gouache, Bates creates marvelous earth-toned illustrations of all the familiar characters, with texture and depth added through deft pencil marks and attention to light and shadow….An especially intimate and human retelling, with exquisite drawings.”

Starred review, Publisher’s Weekly.

“How do you comfort the newborn Jesus? That’s what Mary, Joseph and all the stable animals want to know. Then a kitten appears and purrs its way into Jesus’ heart and life….Inspired by da Vinci’s drawings…this tale imagines what might havde happened on the family’s journey to safety in Egypt. Original and heartwarming, THE CHRISTMAS CAT is purrrrfect for holiday gift-giving.”

Jody Jensen Schaffer, Kansas City.

“Fresh and touching…a Christmas story to share and savor all the year long.”

Richard Peck, Newbery award winner.