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image of a missing poster for a lost cat
JEFFREY COOLIDGE/GETTY IMAGES (POLE); AFRICA STUDIO/ADOBE STOCK (CAT)
Missing

A lost cat comes with a big reward

By Nora Raleigh Baskin
From the September 2020 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will identify the theme of the story: that connecting with other people can help get you through a difficult time.

Lexile: 500L-600L, 600L-700L
Guided Reading Level: S
DRA Level: 40
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Theme

In this story, Linus and Mr. Samson face tough situations. Look for what those are and how the characters end up helping each other. What big idea do you learn? 

Linus stood at the front door of his house and willed his eyes to see as far as they could. The sun was going down and the trees threw shadows that looked like bars across the lawn. Up and down the street, one at a time, his neighbors started turning on their lights. Somewhere out there, his cat, Taxi, was lost.

What if he was cold? Or hungry? Or scared? Taxi slept in bed with Linus every night, curled up by his feet or lying right on Linus’s head. In the morning, as soon as the sun came up, Taxi would start licking Linus with his sandpaper tongue.

What would Taxi do now? He had never been outside before. Ever.

Somehow the latch on the front door had gotten loose, and the spring breeze blew it wide open with a bang. Outside, a garbage truck was backing up and beeping loudly, and a metal trash can fell over and clanked against the sidewalk. Taxi got scared like he always did, but instead of bolting up the stairs and into Mom’s closet, he ran outside.

“He’s a cat,” Dad said gently. “Cats are very smart. He’ll be back.”

Linus couldn’t help the tears from stinging his eyes. Mom drew him in for a hug. “Taxi will find his way back home.”

It was dark out, so even if they could walk around and knock on doors in the neighborhood, it was too late. But now, because of the lockdown, they couldn’t even do that. It already felt like everything he cared about had been taken away.

School was closed. Baseball season had ended before it ever began. He couldn’t visit his best friend, Nick. No movies. No Sky Zone. Their vacation to the Jersey Shore in July had been canceled. No Sunday morning breakfasts at Orem’s Diner.

But losing Taxi was the worst, most horrible feeling of all.

Mom came into his room that night and sat at the end of his bed. She rubbed the two lumps that were his feet under the covers. “Listen, tomorrow morning, early, before anyone else is out,” she said, “we can put on our masks and tape posters up all around the neighborhood.”

Linus felt the tiniest bit of hope growing in his chest.

Linus stood at the front door of his house. The sun was going down. Somewhere out there, his cat Taxi was lost.

What if he was cold? Or hungry? Or scared? Taxi slept in bed with Linus every night, curled up by his feet or lying right on Linus’s head. What would Taxi do now? He had never been outside before. Ever. 

Somehow the latch on the front door had gotten loose. A spring breeze blew it wide open with a bang. Taxi got scared like he always did, but instead of bolting up the stairs and into Mom’s closet, he ran outside. 

“He’s a cat,” Dad said gently. “Cats are very smart. He’ll be back.”

Linus couldn’t keep the tears from stinging his eyes. Mom pulled him in for a hug. “Taxi will find his way back home.” 

It was too dark to go out and look for him. And now, because of COVID-19, they couldn’t even knock on doors and see if anyone had spotted Taxi.  

It felt like everything Linus cared about had been taken away. School was closed. Baseball season had ended before it even began. He couldn’t visit his best friend, Nick. No more Sunday morning breakfasts at Orem’s Diner. 

But losing Taxi was the worst, most horrible thing of all. 

Mom came into his room that night and sat at the end of his bed. “Listen, we’ll start tomorrow morning, early before anyone else is out,” she said. “We can put on our masks and tape posters up all around the neighborhood.”

Linus felt the tiniest bit of hope growing in his chest.

A few blocks away, Mr. Samson sat at his window. There wasn’t much else for him to do. In fact, there wasn’t anything else for him to do. He was supposed to be in California with his daughter and her husband by now. They were about to have their first baby, a daughter, his first grandchild.
But with the pandemic, he couldn’t go anywhere.

His daughter had sent him a computer so they could “visit” online. He took it out of the box and plugged it in. It made noises and lit up. There was a keyboard and little images and places to type things in. He followed all his daughter’s instructions, but he never could get the internet part to work. Finally, he just gave up.

“We still can talk on the phone, sweetie,” he told his daughter. But really, what did he have to talk about anyway?

He hung up the phone, walked back to his chair by the window, and sat down. The grass was coming back to life and the trees were unfurling little green offerings to the sky. He lifted the window and let the warm breeze blow in. But what was that loud whining sound? It wasn’t a crow. The chatter of a squirrel, perhaps?

Mr. Samson pushed himself up from his chair, leaned out onto the ledge, and looked down. Sitting there on the wet grass, gazing up at him, was a little lost cat.

A few blocks away, Mr. Samson sat at his window. There wasn’t much else for him to do. In fact, there wasn’t anything else for him to do. He was supposed to be with his daughter and her husband by now, in California. They were about to have their first baby, a girl.

His daughter sent him a computer so they could “visit” online. He took it out of the box and plugged it in. He followed all his daughter’s instructions, but he never could get the internet part to work. Finally, he just gave up.

“We still can talk on the phone, sweetie,” he told his daughter.

But really, what did he have to talk about anyway? Because of COVID-19, every day seemed the same.

He hung up the phone, walked back to his chair by the window, and sat down. The grass was coming back to life. He lifted the window and let the warm breeze blow in. But what was that loud whining sound?

Mr. Samson pushed himself up from his chair, leaned out onto the ledge, and looked down. Sitting there, gazing up at him, was a little cat.

By 8 a.m., Linus and his mom had put up 25 posters all over the neighborhood. They had the most recent picture of Taxi, one that showed his face up close. You could see his coloring and the little furry beard he had under his chin.

LOST CAT.

“Now,” his mother said, “someone is sure to see Taxi, see this poster, and call our number.”

Linus was not so sure. Besides, everything seemed so strange. Their street would normally have been crowded with people, kids going to school, moms and dads going to work.

The playground at the corner was empty. The swings rocked back and forth in the wind like they were lonely too.

That morning his mom’s cell phone rang twice while Linus was sitting at the dining room table for his online fifth-grade school day. Each time he sprang up to see who it was; both times he fell. Once getting his feet tangled in his chair, the second time tripping on the rug.

Neither call was from someone who had found Taxi. 

By 8 a.m., Linus and his mom had put up 25 posters all over the neighborhood. LOST CAT they said. They had the most recent picture of Taxi. You could see the little furry beard he had under his chin. 

“Someone is sure to see Taxi,” his mother said. “Then they’ll see this poster and call our number.”

Linus was not so sure. Besides, everything seemed so strange. Normally the street would have been crowded with people. 

Now, even the playground at the corner was empty. The swings rocked back and forth in the wind. The swings looked lonely too. 

Later, his mom’s phone rang twice while Linus was sitting in the dining room. That’s where he did his schoolwork now. Each time, he sprang up to see who it was. Neither call was from someone who had found Taxi.

The cat outside Mr. Samson’s window was still there the next morning. He looked too sweet to be a stray. He must be hungry, Mr. Samson thought. He went to his cabinet, found a can of tuna, and forked some onto a saucer. He hoped the cat wouldn’t be gone by the time he got outside. When he opened his door to the side alley, the cat was still there, as if he were waiting for him.

Mr. Samson walked slowly so he wouldn’t scare the cat, but the critter walked right over, rubbed himself against Mr. Samson’s leg, and started purring loudly.

“Here you go, little kitty,” Mr. Samson said, setting the dish of food on the grass. The warm sun felt good on his face. Mr. Samson hadn’t been outside for weeks. Not really. Just to walk to the corner and get the mail, maybe wave across the street to a neighbor or two. His groceries were delivered. He didn’t even go to Orem’s Diner for Sunday breakfast anymore.

But now out here, where the robins were cheerfully bouncing everywhere and this little lost cat was licking the last bit of tuna from the plate, Mr. Samson’s heart cracked wide open. He missed his daughter and now he was going to miss seeing his granddaughter’s face when she came into this beautiful world. 

The cat had finished eating and was weaving in and out between Mr. Samson’s feet. When Mr. Samson reached down to pick up the plate, a little wet nose nuzzled against his face and the purring sounded like a car engine. 

“I bet you miss your family, don’t you?” Mr. Samson said. He stroked the little tuft of hair that grew under the cat’s chin. “I think I’m going to call you Mr. Beard.” 

Mr. Samson couldn’t help but smile when the cat suddenly flopped down and asked for a belly rub.

“I miss my family too,” Mr. Samson said quietly.

Then someone down the street was hollering for a taxi, which made no sense. There weren’t any taxis in this neighborhood. Mr. Samson stood up and took a peek around the corner. That’s when he saw the poster taped to a telephone pole.

LOST CAT, it said. 

It was Mr. Beard.

The cat outside Mr. Samson’s window was wearing a collar, but the tag was missing. He must be hungry, Mr. Samson thought. He found a can of tuna and forked some onto a saucer. He hoped the cat wouldn’t be gone by the time he got outside. When he opened his door to the side alley, the cat was still there, as if he were waiting for him.

Mr. Samson walked slowly so he wouldn’t scare the cat. The cat walked right over and rubbed against Mr. Samson’s leg. 

“Here you go, little kitty,” Mr. Samson said, laying the dish of food on the grass. The warm sun felt good on his face. Mr. Samson hadn’t been outside for weeks. Not really. Just to step out and get the mail, maybe wave across the street to a neighbor or two. His groceries were being delivered. He didn’t even go to Orem’s Diner for Sunday breakfast anymore. 

But now out here in the sun, with the birds singing, Mr. Samson’s heart cracked wide open. He missed his daughter. He was going to miss seeing his granddaughter’s face when she came into this beautiful world. 

The cat had finished eating. When Mr. Samson reached down to pick up the plate, a little wet nose nuzzled against his face.  

“I bet you miss your family, don’t you?” Mr. Samson said. He stroked the bit of fur that grew under the cat’s chin. “I think I’m going to call you Mr. Beard.”  

Mr. Samson couldn’t help smiling when the cat suddenly flopped down and asked for a belly rub. 

“I miss my family too,” Mr. Samson said quietly.

Then someone down the street was hollering “Taxi! Hey, Taxi!,” which made no sense. There weren’t any taxis in this neighborhood. Mr. Samson stood up and looked around the corner. That’s when he saw the poster taped to a telephone pole.

LOST CAT it said. The photo on it showed a cat that looked very familiar. 

It was Mr. Beard. 

Ten minutes later, Taxi felt himself being swooped up into Linus’s arms. Usually, a squeeze this tight would make him squirm, but not now. Now, he was happy to just be held and listen to the world going on around him. There was a lot of talking and calling out from the sidewalk to the alley where he had just eaten a delicious meal.

There were some words Taxi recognized: Computer. Help. Linus. Mom. Dad. Kitty. And some new words: Mr. Samson. Mr. Beard—that was a funny one.

And a couple he had always knownHome. Family.

Two days later, Linus and his mom and dad were crowded together at the dining room table. The three of them were peering at the computer screen. Three blocks away, Mr. Samson’s computer was up and running. And 3,000 miles away, Mr. Samson’s daughter was holding her new baby up to her computer. And they were there all together. At the very same time. 

“She’s so cute,” Linus’s mom said.

Mr. Samson’s daughter leaned in to her screen. “I cannot ever thank you enough for helping my dad with his computer.”

“We didn’t really do anything,” Linus’s dad told her. “All it took was a call to the cable company.”

“I’m so glad we can all be together,” Linus’s mom said. 

“It was all because of Taxi,” Linus chimed in. 

Mr. Samson said, “Yes, that’s one very special cat.”

Taxi was curled up asleep in Linus’s arms. At the sound of his name, he lifted his head. His ears twitched, and if a cat could smile, Taxi did.

Two days later, Linus and his mom and dad were crowded together at the dining room table, the three of them peering into the computer screen. Three blocks away, Mr. Samson’s computer was up and running. And 3,000 miles away, Mr. Samson’s daughter was holding her new baby up to her computer. And they were there all together. At the very same time.

“She’s so cute,” Linus’s mom said.

Mr. Samson’s daughter leaned in to her screen. “I cannot ever thank you enough for helping my dad with this,” she said.

“We didn’t really do anything,” Linus’s dad told her. “It was just a frayed cable line that had come unattached from the house. Probably a mouse or something chewed it. It happens all the time.”

“Well, whatever it was,” Mr. Samson’s daughter said, “if you hadn’t been there to see it, we wouldn’t be all together now.” The baby had fallen asleep in her arms, making a little cooing sound.

“And it was all because of Taxi,” Linus chimed in.

Taxi was asleep in his bed, curled up with his face nestled in his tail. At the sound of his name, he lifted his head. His ears twitched, and if a cat could smile, Taxi did. 

This story was originally published in the September 2020 issue.

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Can't Miss Teaching Extras
Watch a Video

Make sure students watch our “Author Visit” video, in which they’ll get to meet Nora Raleigh Baskin and hear her discuss what it’s like to be a writer and offer advice to kids about writing.

Share Your Story

If your students would like to record their own experiences during the pandemic, check out Scholastic Magazines’ My History page. It offers ideas for students to write, draw, make a video or photo collage, and other creative ways to memorialize this time. With a teacher’s, parent’s, or guardian’s permission, students can share their projects with us.

More About the Story

Skills

vocabulary, character, how setting affects character, compare and contrast, inference, author’s craft, finding the meaning, plot, explanatory writing

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning

The story is called Missing because it’s about a missing cat—but on a deeper level, it’s about how neighbors who are missing doing the things they love can help each other.

Structure

This realistic-fiction story is told in the third-person voice but from three different perspectives: those of two humans and a cat. Some inferences are required.

Language

The story includes some challenging vocabulary, such as lockdown and pandemic, as well as metaphors, similes, and rhetorical questions.

Knowledge Demands 

The story mentions Sky Zone and the Jersey Shore.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Set a Purpose for Reading

  • Have students read the Up Close box on page 11. Ask: Based on the pictures in the story, what might be the tough situations the characters face? (Students will likely conclude that the characters face situations related to the pandemic.) Invite students to share how they have helped others or how others have helped them during this time.
  • Preview the questions in the margins of the story with students.

Vocabulary

  • Distribute our Vocabulary Skill Builder (available in your Resources tab) to preview five words. Students will also be able to add other unfamiliar words from the story.
  • Vocabulary words include unfurling, nuzzled, tuft, peering, and frayed.

2. Reading and Discussing

First Read: Get to Know the Text (20 minutes)

  • Have students read the story independently or listen to the audio as they follow along. (The audio read-aloud is located in the Resources tab.)

Second Read: Unpack the Text (30 minutes)

  • Have students read the story again carefully, pausing to complete the close-reading questions in the margins. Answers follow. (In some cases, you’ll need to refer to the story to see the context of the question.)
  • Discuss the critical-thinking questions. (A PDF of these questions and an Interactive version are both available in your Resources tab.)

 

Close-Reading Questions

  • What is Linus feeling right now? How can you tell? (character, p. 11) Linus is feeling worried and upset about Taxi being lost. He thinks nervously about how the cat has never been outside before and wonders whether Taxi is cold, hungry, or scared. You can tell that Linus is afraid that something will happen to his beloved pet.
  • What is happening in the world when this story takes place? In what ways can you relate to Linus’s experiences? (how setting affects character, p. 11) Covid-19 has broken out around the world, and people are staying at home to prevent the spread of the disease. Students might say that they can relate to the experiences of missing their friends, having to stay home from school, and not being able to go on vacation or do other fun things.
  • How has the pandemic affected Mr. Samson? In what ways is this the same and different from how it has affected Linus? (compare and contrast, p. 12) Because of the pandemic, Mr. Samson is stuck at home without anything to do—just like Linus. He is missing his daughter, like Linus is missing Taxi. You can tell that he too feels “like everything he cared about had been taken away.” But Mr. Samson is also all alone and about to miss an important event in his family’s life.
  • What can you infer about where this cat came from? (inference, p. 12) You can infer that this cat is Taxi, Linus’s lost pet.
  • Can swings be lonely? Why do you think the author describes them this way? (author’s craft, p. 12) The author describes the swings as lonely to show how Linus is feeling. Because Linus himself is lonely, he looks at the swaying, empty swings and imagines that they are experiencing the same emotion.
  • Think about how Mr. Samson has been feeling until now. How might helping the cat change his mood? (inference, p. 13) Helping the cat might cheer Mr. Samson up by giving him a purpose and making him feel less alone in the lockdown.
  • Why do you think the author includes this detail? (Hint: When was Orem’s diner mentioned previously?) (author’s craft, p. 13) The author probably includes this detail to show that Linus and Mr. Samson have something in common: They used to eat at the same restaurant on Sunday mornings, and they’re both missing it. This suggests that there is a connection between the two characters.
  • What strong feelings is Mr. Samson having? How do you think going out and finding the cat made his heart crack wide open? (finding the meaning, p. 13) Mr. Samson is suddenly overwhelmed by how lonely he has been in lockdown and how sad he is to be missing his granddaughter’s birth. Leaving his house to help the cat has helped him realize how much he misses being able to go outside and interact with others—especially his daughter. Just like Taxi, he longs to be back with his loved ones.
  • How are these words important to Taxi and everyone in the story? How do they connect with the title of the story? (theme, p. 14) Throughout the story, Taxi has been trying to find his way back to his home and family—and he’s not the only one. Linus has been thinking that “everything seemed so strange” without people around his neighborhood; home doesn’t feel quite like home during the pandemic. Mr. Samson has been struggling with how to stay in touch with his daughter from afar. The title of the story refers to the fact that Taxi is missing, but also that everyone in the story is missing their home and family in some way.
  • What are the characters doing right now? (plot, p. 14) The characters are video chatting with each other over the computer.
  • In what ways have Linus’s and Mr. Samson’s difficult situations gotten better? (theme, p. 14) Linus has gotten his cat back, and Mr. Samson has learned how to visit virtually with his daughter and new baby granddaughter. In the process, the two have made friends with each other’s families and found a way to connect with other people during a challenging, lonely time.

 

Critical-Thinking Questions

  • Why is “Missing” a good title for this story? (theme) “Missing” is a good title because the word is used two different ways in the story. Linus’s cat Taxi runs off and is missing. Also, Linus and Mr. Samson are missing people and places they aren’t able to visit and things they aren’t able to do because of the Covid-19 pandemic . Linus misses seeing his friend Nick, playing baseball, and going to Orem’s Diner. Mr. Samson also misses going to Orem’s Diner. Even more, he misses seeing his daughter and is missing out on meeting his granddaughter in person. They both are missing their old lives before the pandemic.
  • What has helped Linus and Mr. Samson feel better by the end of the story? Have you ever experienced something similar in your own life? Explain. (theme) By the end of the story, Linus and Mr. Samson have found satisfaction in helping one another and comfort in being together (even virtually) with others who are going through the same challenges during the pandemic. Answers will vary for the second part of the question.

3. Skill Building and Writing

Featured Skill: Theme

  • Distribute our Theme Skill Builder (available in your Resources tab) and have students complete it as a class or in small groups. Then have them respond to the writing prompt at the bottom of page 14.

Great Ideas for Remote Learning

  • Have students listen to the Author Read-Aloud with Nora Raleigh Baskin. Or gather the class or a small group in your virtual classroom and read the story aloud to them yourself. It will be a comforting way for students to get to know you. 
  • Schedule one-on-one video conferences with students and use the story as a springboard for discussion. You can discuss the close-reading or critical-thinking questions, or open a conversation about what the student’s experience has been like during the pandemic.
Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Visit the Storyworks Activity Library to find our Venn diagram handout. Have students fill it out with the problems Linus and Mr. Samson are each facing in the story, writing the problems the two characters have in common in the middle section of the diagram. They can then discuss with a partner (either in person or digitally) how these problems are solved by the end of the story.

For Advanced Readers

Have students rewrite the story from Taxi’s point of view, from the time he runs away from Linus’s house up until just before they are reunited (which is already written from Taxi’s perspective in the story). They should make sure to include details about what the cat is thinking and feeling throughout his journey.

For ELL Students

Keeping track of the alternating perspectives in the story may be challenging for students. Explain that this story is written from different points of view, and work with them to determine the point of view of each section. Point out different clues in the text that tell them whose perspective it’s from—phrases such as “Linus felt” and “Mr. Samson thought.”

For Social-Emotional Learning

This story provides a perfect opportunity to discuss with students what their experiences have been like during the Covid-19 pandemic. As suggested in the Preparing to Read section, you might want to start off with a discussion of how people have helped each other in this time. After reading, invite students to write a letter to Linus, telling him about a problem that has come up because of the lockdown and how they managed the problem.