Thursday, 9 August 2018

A Cat For All Seasons

Today was international cat day, and it’s been rather a fun exercise to meander through the many shelves to pull out some of our brilliant picture book odes to the feline. Here's a miaow to our favourite classic cats, with new cats on the block and some marvellously arty cats to follow. We'd love to know your favourites too.

Some of my favourite illustrators of all time seem to harbour a penchant for the fabulous feline. My collection of Nicola Bayley's tales have been a treasured possession since childhood. The Patchwork Cat, by Nicola Bailey and William Mayne is a gloriously illustrated and lyrically written tale of a cat whose beloved blanket is disposed of for a newer version. But she loves her old rag and sets off in pursuit, finding herself lost and consigned to a dump... will she ever see her home again? Bayley also teamed up with Richard Adams (of Watership Down fame) to produce another catty classic - the poetic The Tyger Voyage about two adventurous feline brothers who set off to explore the world. Think Jules Verne for Tigers... Finally she worked with Antonia Barber on the classic Cornish tale of Mousehole fame about Mowzer the cat and her owner Tom who brave the Great Storm Cat to save their village and bring in some fish.




In a similar vein Richard Adams has also written a beautiful volume The Ship's Cat with Alan Aldridge which follows the swashbuckling adventures of another adventurous moggy - a thoroughly English cat, risking perils of the seas for Queen Elizabeth I against the Spanish threat; and Helen Cooper's The House Cat is a sumptuously illustrated and warmtale about a cat who is moved away from the place he really considers his home with owners who do not really appreciate him. We follow his harrowing journey home, all the way back to his little girl from the flat upstairs and the place he really belongs.


Another little beauty is A Dark Dark Tale by Ruth Brown "Once upon a time there was a dark, dark moor. On the moor there was a dark, dark wood. In the wood there was a dark, dark house..." A black cat creeps her way through the night following a trail through a mysterious old house. I used to love the creepiness of her journey, the suspense and the surprising coda.
  
Other treasured classic tales need little introduction , The Tale of Tom Kitten by Beatrix Potter, Judith Kerr's Mog, Dr Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, and various Ladybird classic versions of Puss In Boots and Dick Whittington.



Next, we have an appropriate marriage of two recently published celebrations of Edward Lear's most famous couple The Owl and The Pussy-Cat. Firstly a stunningly illustrated gift version of the original, then a sequel from the wonderful Julia Donaldson, herself a devotee of Lear and his talent for nonsense poetry. Lear originally wrote the illustrated poem for the poorly three year old daughter of a friend, and I've found it is one of the best first poems to introduce to a child. The girls particularly love the poem set to music as part of the fantastic Funkey Rhymes CD. Charlotte Voake's illustrations are simple yet dynamic. They convey movement, lightheartedness and a splash of childhood joy. I love how they look like watercolours and you can see some of the brushstrokes - a great inspiration for budding artists to emulate. Donaldson's sequel The Further Adventures of the Owl and The Pussy-Cat is also illustrated by Voake, and with Donaldson's seemingly effortless genius with rhyme, the tale continues in seamless form with the honeymoon of the unlikely couple. Following the loss of their wedding ring, the two are thrust on new adventures where they meet many others of Lear's colourful creations - The Pobble who has no toes, the Chankly Bore, even the Jumblies. It's brilliant. A wonderful Christmas gift for any child (the sequel even comes with a CD of Donaldson narrating the poem).

Finally, a couple of new offerings from classic authors.  Last year Quentin Blake was invited to illustrate an unpublished story by Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Kitty in Boots, rediscovered after 100 years. Potter said in letters that she had wanted to finish the story but "interruptions began", including the First World War, her marriage and illness. Her tale as she describes it is about "a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life". Beloved classic characters also make cameo appearances, but Blake's illustrations give the book a more modern feel.  





Meg and Mog by Jan Pienkowski and Helen Nicholl were also solid childhood friends. In 2016 Jan brought out a third title in a collaboration with David Walser. The illustrations are iconic - bold blocks of colour and distinctive soundbubbles. My edition of Meg and Mog is just about still in one piece...

Finally a huge success is Judith Kerr's latest feline picture book. 47 years ago Kerr wrote about her cat Mog, mentioned above as a true classic selling over 3 million copies. Mog has long since passed away - controversially perhaps Kerr even wrote about this in a lovely book about the loss of a pet. Last year Kerr, at 93 and having had 9 cats through her lifetime, brought out a stunning book with a new feline character (her latest cat Katinka) entitled Katinka's Tail - described by the author as "a white cat with a tabby's tail that doesn't belong". When people point out the incongruent markings, we are told she is a perfectly ordinary pussy cat... except for her (rather magical) tail. Culturetot immediately fell in love with this beautiful book, and so did my mum. At 93 Kerr's work is still exquisite, long may she continue to create. (For more on her background and inspiration see this post on The Tiger who Came to Tea).



Disclaimer: Most of the books discussed we own and several copies are being passed down the generations, but thanks go to Harper Collins, Warne and Puffin for review copies of recent editions.

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