By DAPHNE LEE
From Tots to Teens, 19th June, 2011
So, I hope you’re eager to learn of more fictional felines this week.
One of my favourite novels about cats is Jennie by Paul Gallico. Unfortunately, it is no longer in print. However, you can find secondhand copies online.
It’s about a boy, Peter, who is transformed into a cat and is cared for by a cat, called Jennie, who
has been abandoned by her owners. If you’re familiar with the way cats behave, you will realise that
Gallico was obviously very fond of and familiar with cats. In fact, he also wrote The Silent Miaow
which is a manual, supposedly written by a cat (translated from the feline into English by Gallico),
that “instructs stray kittens and homeless cats in how to obtain, captivate, and dominate the families of their choice.”
There’s also The Three Lives of Thomasina (readers of a certain age may remember the 1960s Disney adaptation) and Honourable Cat, a collection of poems and essays about cats.
captain, has been re-issued by the New York Review Children’s Collection, as have Barbara Sleigh’s
books about Carbonel, King of the Cats. Both series are beautifully illustrated – Averill handling the drawings for her own books, and Richard Kennedy doing the honours for Carbonel’s adventures.
Over at Puffin, there are Ursula Moray Williams’ books about the young cat Gabbolino who, as
he’s not at all wicked and doesn’t want to join the family business (assisting witches), is a great
disappointment to his mother.
Then there are the assorted cats in Beatrix Potter’s tales: Tom Kitten, his siblings Moppet (who has
her own story, The Tale of Miss Moppet) and Mittens, and their mother Tabitha Twitchit. There is
also Ginger from The Tale of Ginger and Pickles. Ginger is my favourite of Potter’s cats. She keeps
a grocery shop with the dog, Pickels, and their customers, mostly mice and rabbits, are naturally
rather frightened of them, which is not good for business (Ginger’s mouth waters when she sees
their mice customers leaving the shop with their little parcels). To make matters worse, Ginger and
Pickles extend their clients unlimited credit and are never paid. Tabitha Twitchit who is the pair’s
business rival runs a much more successful shop for she never gives credit.
I’ve already mentioned in this column the charming Dayan stories by Akiko Ikeda. The charismatic
cat, Dayan, lives in a mysterious and magical woodland world called Wachifield -- a world of witches and singing frogs and dancing shadows, but no flying cats. If that’s what you’re after, there are Catwings and its sequels Catwings Return, Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, and Jane On Her Own by Ursula LeGuin, illustrated by J. D. Schindler.
Finally, there is I Am a Cat by Natsume Soseki. This is not a children’s book but might appeal to some teenagers and of course anyone who likes a good satire. The cat in question could have written The Silent Miaow. He is superior, scathing and sarcastic, and comments on humans and the human condition with undisguised contempt. If you own a cat, you’ll recognise the derision reflected in this feline’s observations. OK, I know cats don’t speak the same language we do, but surely you’ll agree that they don’t need words to express their disdain – those narrowed eyes and flicking tales say it all.