After two weeks of picture books about cats, it’s time to introduce you to books for children and young adults that have felines at the heart of them.
Ship’s Cat Doris
Written and illustrated by Jane Simmons
When Bosun thinks his new ship’s cat is a she, he names her Doris! But Doris-definitely a he-soon finds this isn’t his only problem: making friends with the ship’s dogs is tricky, and standing up to the shipyard bully will take a lot of courage…
Will Doris ever be a true ship’s cat?
Doris is taken from his mummy to live on Cap and Bosun’s boat. There he meets two dogs: John the gentle giant and Madge, who was badly treated by her previous family and needs time to get to know Doris. Freda the chicken also lives with them and spends most of her time scrounging food in the boatyard. When the Beast (the vet) visits, it turns out that Doris is actually a boy! But Cap and Bosun decide to keep the name. Life on the boat is never dull. Doris chases a rat into the water, encounters mean Jasper the boatyard cat, is attacked by seagulls and is trapped on the boat by the threat of the Queen’s (the owner of the boatyard) pet. Finally the boat is sea-worthy and Doris sets sail for new adventures with his family.
Jane Simmons is the author and illustrator of many picture books, including the Ebb and Flo and Daisy series. She based this story on her own experiences living with Doris, John, Madge and Freda on a boat in Cornwall.
Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat!
Written by Pip Jones and illustrated by Ella Okstad
An imaginary friend is a wonderful thing.
What giggles! What games! What adventures they bring!
Well, Ava’s a girl who knows all about that…
Meet Squishy McFluff, her invisible cat!
Suitable for younger readers, this book introduces Ava and her invisible cat, Squishy McFluff. Soon the two are getting into all sorts of mischief: chasing birds, painting the carpet, drawing on the curtains and putting plants in the bath. Of course, it is all Squishy McFluff’s doing. Mum tries to get rid of him by sending him on a train ride and then to the moon, but he just comes back. Finally she enlists the help of Great Grandad Bill, who solves the problem of the mischievous invisible cat…for now!
This rhyming book about an imaginary cat is delightful. The words and pictures are a perfect match, enhancing the reading experience. The length and layout also make it an ideal way of introducing children to independent reading. And there are another five Squishy McFluff books, as well as a website to explore. Yay!
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest
Written by Charles de Lint and illustrated by Charles Vess
Lillian Kindred spends her days exploring the Tanglewood Forest, a magical, rolling wilderness that she imagines to be full of fairies. The trouble is, Lillian has never seen a wisp of magic in her hills-until the day the cats of the forest save her life by transforming her into a kitten. Now Lillian must set out on a perilous adventure that will lead her through the untamed lands of fabled creatures-from Old Mother Possum to the fearsome Bear People-to find a way to make things right.
With beautiful illustrations throughout, this book tells the story of Lillian, who gets bitten by a snake whilst playing in Tanglewood Forest. The cats, who live there, turn her into a kitten in order to save her life. Lillian then sets out to find a way to return to her original form. During her adventures, she meets T. H. Reynolds (a Truthful and Handsome fox), who takes her to Old Mother Possum. She changes Lillian back, but there are awful consequences. So, again, Lillian sets off to make things right by journeying to the Bear People. Finally, with the help of Apple Tree Man and Father of Cats (a panther), things are righted, for a price.
This is a wonderful book, full of folklore and magic, which is only to be expected as both Charles de Lint and Charles Vess are well-known for their work in the mythic arts field. Based on the picture book, A Circle of Cats, I highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys fantasy and legends.
Warriors: Into the Wild
Written by Erin Hunter and illustrated by Owen Richardson
Fire alone can save our clan.
For generations, four Clans of cats have shared the forest. But ThunderClan is in grave danger, and ShadowClan grows stronger every day. In the midst of this turmoil appears a house cat named Rusty…who may turn out to be the bravest warrior of them all.
This book marks the start of the Warriors series, The Prophecies Begin, and is set in a rural area inhabited by four clans of cats: Thunderclan, Shadowclan, Riverclan and Windclan. When cats dies, they journey to Starclan, which provides guidance through dreams and omens. This first book introduces Rusty, a kittypet (a house-cat), who leaves his home and joins Thunderclan, whose territory covers the woodland areas. He is renamed Firepaw and becomes friends with two other apprentices, Graypaw and Ravenpaw. But there is trouble in the wilderness. One clan has disappeared and another is trying to extend its territory. Meanwhile not all cats in Thunderclan can be trusted. It is just possible that Firepaw is the cat foreseen in a message from Starclan: “Fire alone can save our clan”.
Although I am not a cat-person, I really enjoyed this book. It is fast-paced and exciting, with high and low points. Written from a cat’s-eye view, it captures the mannerisms and ‘speech’ of the felines; eg. ‘miaowed’ and ‘mewed’ are used instead of ‘said’. I also love the maps at the front of the book, which show the wilderness from a cat viewpoint and then a two-leg (a person) viewpoint. The good news for those who enjoy this book is that there are nine series to read, as well as a website to explore. So, plenty to keep you busy! Erin Hunter (a collective pseudonym for six authors) has also written several other series: Seekers (about three bears), Survivors (about a pack of dogs) and Bravelands (about a lion, elephant and baboon).
Kaspar, Prince of Cats
Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman
Kaspar the cat first came to The Savoy Hotel in a basket-Johnny Trott knows, because he was the one who carried him in. Johnny was a bell-boy, you see, and he carried all of Countess Kandinsky’s things to her room.
But Johnny didn’t expect to end up with Kaspar on his hands forever, nor did he count on making friends with Lizziebeth, a spirited American heiress. Pretty soon, events are set in motion that will take Johnny-and Kaspar-all around the world, surviving theft, shipwreck and rooftop rescues along the way. Because everything changes with a cat like Kaspar around. After all, he’s Kaspar Kandinsky, Prince of Cats, a Muscovite, a Londoner and a New Yorker, and as far as anyone knows, the only cat to survive the sinking of the Titanic…
This is the story of Johnny Trott, a bell-boy at The Savoy Hotel in London, whose life becomes entwined with that of Kaspar, the Prince of Cats. He meets Countess Kandinsky and her cat when she arrives at the hotel. He is given responsibility for looking after Kaspar whilst she is rehearsing for an opera at Covent Garden. But a tragedy occurs and Johnny ends up hiding the cat in his room. Lizziebeth, an American heiress staying at The Savoy with her family, finds Kaspar and befriends Johnny, who saves her when she climbs onto the roof trying to help an injured pigeon. When the family and Kaspar return to New York aboard the Titanic, Johnny stows away and ends up working as a stoker. Soon disaster strikes in the middle of the North Atlantic…
Like much of Michael Morpurgo’s work, this is a wonderfully emotive story. It is based on real events: the lucky black cat at The Savoy and the sinking of the Titanic. I love the way he has woven a story around these things. This is a feature of several of his books; eg. Listen to the Moon (the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I), The Fox and the Ghost King (the discovery of the remains of King Richard III in a carpark in Leicester) and The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (the practice for the D-Day landings on a beach in Slapton, South Devon).
Cat on the Island
Written by Gary Crew and illustrated by Gillian Warden
In 1894, Stephens Island, New Zealand, was paradise. This true story, told by an old man to his grandson, reveals how one innocent event can change the delicate balance of nature forever.
“Told as a fable, but based on a real event, this story is a timely reminder of the fragility of our world” (Harper Collins Publishers, 2014). A grandfather tells his grandson about his family’s arrival on Stephens Island in Cook Strait between New Zealand’s North and South islands. His father is the lighthouse keeper and his mother brings a pregnant cat named Tibbles. The island is home to many different bird species, including the world’s only flightless wren. The trees are cleared and the vegetation is removed to make way for the lighthouse. As the grandfather says, “We built a lighthouse to save the odd ship, but wrecked an island to do it”. Then Tibbles gives birth to a litter of kittens, which become feral once they have weaned. They start to prey on the birds, especially the wrens which, being flightless, have no means of escape and no vegetation to hide in. Within two years of the family’s arrival, the wrens are extinct. The grandfather explains to his grandson that “Nothing comes back when it’s extinct”. This is “the only instance in the world where a single species has been made extinct by another single species”.
This picture book is more appropriate for older readers and I would shelve it in the fiction section, rather than with the picture books. There are slightly confronting images of the cat (all fangs, claws and blood) and the theme is suited to deeper discussions around a range of ecological issues. These are included in the Teaching Notes written for use with the book. In addition, an article published by The Ornithological Society of New Zealand and entitled The tale of the lighthouse-keeper’s cat (not Hamish from last week’s post!), provides more information about the extinction of the flightless wren. It makes interesting reading. As does a recent article in The Guardian about the number of birds killed each year by cats in Australia (an incredible 377 million).
Written by Nilanjana Roy and illustrated by Prabha Mallya
Prowling, hunting and fighting amidst the crumbling ruins of one of Delhi’s oldest neighbourhoods, are the proud Wildings. These feral cats fear no one, go where they want and do as they please. Battle-scarred tomcats, fierce warrior queens, the Wildings have ruled over Nizamuddin for centuries.
Now there is a new addition to the clan-a pampered housecat with strange powers that could turn their world on its head. And something is stirring in the old Shuttered House-something dark and cruel and dangerous. As a terrifying new enemy emerges from the shadows, the Wildings will need all the allies they can get, as they fight for Nizamuddin, and their lives.
The Wildings are the feral cats of Nizamuddin in Old Delhi. Consisting of toms, such as Katar and Hulo, and queens, such as Beraal and Miao, they prowl the parks and streets of the neighbourhood. In many ways, this book is similar to Into the Wild, as it introduces the clan members and world in which they live. Into their lives comes a kitten, a house-cat like Rusty, who plays an important role in the future of the Wildings. However, unlike Rusty, Mara interacts with the other cats in a non-physical way and refuses to leave the safety and comfort of her home. While she develops and learns to control her powers, the cats in the old Shuttered House are getting restless. They are not like the Wildings; they have no morals or scruples. They want to kill and take over the surrounding territory. Only the feral cats stand in their way…
This was an exceptionally well-written book, which I found hard to put down. The characters are engaging and there is a good balance between action and setting, so you get a feel for the place, but the storyline continues to move forward. I also enjoyed the fantasy element of the Sender. The sequel, The Hundred Names of Darkness, is on my ‘to read’ list and I look forward to meeting Mara, Southpaw, Beraal, Katar and the other cats of Old Delhi again.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of books about cats. Maybe you’ve been inspired to seek some of them out and read them. If you have, let me know what you think of them in the comments below.
This post is for Olivia, who loves cats, but may have to settle for her own Squishy McFluff!
All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.