Posts Tagged cat

The Daydreamer

the daydreamerI’m teaching  Year 4 next year (8 and 9 year olds).  So I’ve started to read books that they might like.

I like Ian McEwan’s The Daydreamer a lot, though maybe it’s a bit too old for most Y4 children. Why too old? Perhaps the element of threat. But then again, maybe it’s OK…

It’s a book about a young boy who’s a daydreamer, dreaming about transformations.

My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind.

Ovid, Metamorphoses

So, in the wonderful chapter called The Cat, Peter discovers something unexpected about his cat:

Looking down through the fur, and parting it with the tips of his fingers ,he saw that he had opened up a small slit in the cat’s skin. It was as if he were holding the handle of a zip. Again he pulled, and now there was a dark opening two inches long. William Cat’s purr was coming from in there.

The choice of Anthony Browne as illustrator is perfect. His detailed realistic images always have an element of the surreal in them, and McEwan’s writing embeds the mysterious in the quotidian detail of family life:

In the big untidy kitchen there was a drawer. Of course, there were many drawers, but when someone said, ‘The string is in the kitchen drawer,’ everyone understood. The chances were the string would not be in the drawer. It was meant to be, along with a dozen other useful things that were never there: screwdrivers, scissors, sticky tape, drawing pins, pencils. If you wanted one of these, you looked in the drawer first, then you looked everywhere else. What was in the drawer was hard to define: things that had no natural place, things that had no use but did not deserve to be thrown away, things that might be mended one day. So—batteries that still had a little life, nuts without their bolts, the handle of a precious teapot, a padlock without a key or a combination lock whose secret number was a secret to everyone, the dullest kind of marbles, foreign coins, a torch without a bulb, a single glove from a pair lovingly knitted by Granny before she died, a hot water bottle stopper, a cracked fossil. By some magic reversal, everything spectacularly useless filed the drawer intended for practical tools. What could you do with a single piece of jigsaw? But, on the other hand, did you dare throw it away?

I think maybe this would be a good read-aloud book, to make the trickier ideas more accessible, and to be together for the weirder parts. The language is, as you’d expect, just right, good to hear.


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Varjak Paw

“There are Seven Skills in the Way of Jalal,” whispered the Elder Paw.  “We know only three of them. Their names are these.  Slow-Time.  Moving Circles.  Shadow-Walking.”

SF Said‘s Varjak Paw is a tale of a pet cat who must grow up, learn to survive Outside, and learn the Seven Skills of his ancestor Jalal. He uses the skills, which he learns from Jalal in his dreams, to help his new street cat friends, Holly and Tam.

As usual David McKean’s illustrations are amazing, and complement the text brilliantly.

Varjak Paw 1

Varjak Paw 2

Varjak Paw 3

Varjak Paw 4

Varjak Paw 5




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I see the Google doodle for Edward Lear’s 200th birthday.

As Michael Rosen writes, Lear began writing nonsense during his stays at the Knowsley estate of Lord Stanley, who had hired the young Lear to paint his menagerie. He was so bored by the company: “the uniform apathetic tone assumed by lofty society irks me dreadfully … nothing I long for half so much as to giggle heartily and to hop on one leg down the great gallery – but dare not.”

So, Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat:


The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,

Wrapped up in a five pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,

And sang to a small guitar,

‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,

What a beautiful Pussy you are,

You are,

You are!

What a beautiful Pussy you are!’


Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!

How charmingly sweet you sing!

O let us be married! too long we have tarried:

But what shall we do for a ring?’

They sailed away, for a year and a day,

To the land where the Bong-tree grows

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood

With a ring at the end of his nose,

His nose,

His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.


‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling

Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’

So they took it away, and were married next day

By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon,

The moon,

The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

My favourite illustrated version is by James Marshall:

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the Cat and the Devil

I first read James Joyce’s The Cat and the Devil just a week or so ago. Now I hear there is another JJ cat book: The Cats of Copenhagen. And it’s in the news too.

The Zurich James Joyce Foundation has Joyce’s letter to his grandson where he tells the story. It says it “never permitted, tolerated, condoned or connived at this publication, and it rigidly dissociates itself from it.”

The publishers, Ithys, have responded that Joyce’s work is now in the public domain. But this is disputed by the foundation, who say that unpublished material is still in copyright. So this may be your only chance, at a mere £1200, to buy a copy of this story.

As for The Cat and the Devil, in my French copy illustrated by Roger Blachon, it’s about a small village on the Loire called Beaujency. It could do with a bridge over the Loire, but hasn’t got the money to build one. The Devil reads about it in the papers and decides to help:

Here is the letter, which I find here, that Joyce wrote to his grandson:

My dear Stevie,
I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency.

Beaugency is a tiny old town on the bank of Loire, France’s longest river. It is also a very wide river, for France at least. At Beaugency it is so wide that if you wanted to cross it from one bank to the other you would have to take at least one thousand steps. Long ago the people of Beaugency, when they wanted to cross it, had to go in a boat for there was no bridge. And they could not make one for themselves or pay anybody else to make one. So what were they to do?

The devil, who is always reading the newspapers, heard about this sad state of theirs so he dressed himself and came to call on the lord mayor of Beaugency, who was named Monsieur Alfred Byrne. This lord mayor was very fond of dressing himself too. He wore a scarlet robe and always had a great golden chain round his neck even when he was fast asleep in bed with his knees in his mouth.

The devil told the lord mayor what he had read in the newspaper and said he could make a bridge for the people of Beaugency so that they could cross the river as often as they wished. He said he could make a bridge as good as ever was made, and make it in one single night.

The lord mayor asked him how much money he wanted for making such a bridge. No money at all, said the devil, all I ask is that the first person who crosses the bridge shall belong to me. Good, said the lord mayor.

The night came down, all the people in Beaugency went to bed and slept. The morning came. And when they put their heads out of their windows they cried: O Loire, what a fine bridge! For they saw a fine strong stone bridge thrown across the wide river.

All the people ran down to the head of the bridge and looked across it. There was the devil, standing at the other side of the bridge, waiting for the first person who should cross it. But nobody dared to cross it for fear of the devil. Then there was the sound of bugles – that was a sign for the people to be silent – and the lord mayor M. Alfred Byrne appeared in his great scarlet robe and wearing his heavy golden chain round his neck. He had a bucket of water in one hand and under his arm – the other arm – he carried a cat.

The devil stopped dancing when he saw him from the other side of the bridge and put up his long spyglass. All the people whispered to one another and the cat looked up at the lord mayor because in the town of Beaugency it was allowed that a cat should look at a lord mayor. When he was tired of looking at the lord mayor (because even a cat gets tired of looking at a lord mayor) he began to play with the lord mayor’s heavy golden chain.

When the lord mayor came to the head of the bridge every man held his breath and every woman held her tongue. The lord mayor put the cat down on the bridge and, quick as a thought, splash! he emptied the whole bucket of water over it.

The cat who was now between the devil and the bucket of water made up his mind quite as quickly and ran with his ears back across the bridge and into the devil’s arms.

The devil was as angry as the devil himself. Messieurs les Balgentiens, he shouted across the bridge, vous n’ etes pas de belles gens du tout! Vous n’ ete que des chats!*

And he said to the cat: Viens ici, mon petit chat! Tu as peur, mon petit chou-chat! Viens ici, le diable t’ emporte! On va se chauffer tous les deuex.** And off he went with the cat.

And since that time the people of that town are called le chats de Beaugency.***

But the bridge is there still and there are boys walking and riding and playing upon it.

I hope you will like this story.


P.S. The devil mostly speaks a language of his own called Bellsybabble which he makes up himself as he goes along but when he is very angry he can speak quite bad French very well, though some who have heard him, say that he has a strong Dublin accent.

*You people of Beaugency. From this time on you will be called the people with the soul of a cat! (Corrupted French).

**Come here, my pussy cat. Don’t fear me, my pussy cat. Are you cold, my pussy cat? Come, come, the devil will take you to hell, O.K.? There we will feel warm soon. (Corrupted French).

*** The cats of Beaugency. (Corrupted French).

The story was also published in 1965 with illustrations by Gerald Rose (I’d like to have this one – Gerald Rose beautifully illustrated a lot of books that I only just remember reading as a child):

and in a 1964 edition with pictures by Richard Erdoes:

You can see more on We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie .

It’s attracted a lot of illustrators, this tale. Here’s another French adaptation, this time illustrated by Jean-Jacques Corre:

As for the Cats of Copenhagon, you may never get to see much more of it than this:

James Joyce's 'The Cats of Copenhagen' (Ithys Press, 2012) Poster

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Wabi Sabi

Another Ed Young book – and I am bowled over by it straight away.

It illustrates, and explains, something in Japanese culture that I kind of understood, but didn’t know had a name: wabi sabi. It was there in the Japanese illustrations of La Fontaine’s fables that I mentioned before. It’s there in haikus, in their quiet minimal holding of a moment in time, in nature. It’s there in the zen garden and the rough, chunky and irregular bowls of the tea ceremony.

Thumbnail for version as of 14:37, 24 January 2005

And this book illustrates wabi sabi through a story. A story about a cat called Wabi Sabi who wants to understand his name.

So, what is wabi sabi? Here is the author of the book, Mark Reibstein, and the illustrator, Ed Young, talking about the book:

Ed Young used collage for his illustrations. As he says in an interview here on How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator:

“It’s easier to change around, nothing is permanently pasted down,” Young said. “It’s flexible and alive. With other mediums you often get tight too quickly, then you get attached to it and it’s hard to change. Collage was something I used for sketching in the past. Now I use it to finish my work.”

“It’s really play. You don’t get down to make something firm until the [pieces] start to talk to you.  Then you listen.”

wabi sabi 1

wabi sabi 2

The cat’s tail twitching,

she watches her master, still

waiting in silence.

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I saw…

I saw a Peacock  with a fiery tail

I saw a blazing comet  drop down hail

I saw a Cloud  with Ivy circled round

I saw a sturdy Oak  creep on the ground

I saw a Pismire  swallow up a whale 

I saw a raging Sea  brim full of Ale 

I saw a Venice Glass  sixteen foot deep

I saw a Well  full of men`s tears that weep

I saw their eyes  all in a flame of fire

I saw a House  as big as the Moon and higher

I saw the sun  even in the midst of night

I saw the Man  that saw this wonderous sight.

The pictures are from the wondrous I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail by Gond tribal artist Ramsingh Urveti and book designer Jonathan Yamakami.
What they don’t show you here is the die cutting that lets you see through from one line to the next in exactly the playful way the poem hides and shows itself. This in itself is an achievement. It takes Eric Carle’s idea of putting holes in a picture book a step further, to creatively reproduce the trick of the poem in visual form. It’s worth reading Yamakami’s blog post describing the process he went through to get to this point.
Are you looking for a beautiful Christmas present to give someone?  Try Tara Books’ amazing handmade volumes. The fantastic (it’s all superlatives today) introduced me to I Like Cats  and The Night Life of Trees.
 You can get both books on amazon, but I imagine they won’t last for ever because they are handmade:

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cat’s paw

Reading one or two fables in spare moments (whiich there aren’t many of). The Moneky and the Cat came to my attention. It’s called an Aesop’s fable, but, like many, doesn’t seem to go back to Aesop. Where it comes from no-one seems to be sure.

The story itself is short, without the subtle humour and dialogue that Aesop’s fables often have:

Once  there was a small monkey who lived in the same household as a little cat. When he saw some chestnuts buried in the hearth, he began to brush the ash aside, but, afraid of the burning coals, he seized the foot of the sleeping cat and with it stole them out.

From this there is, apparently, the expression a “cat’s paw”: someone who does someone else’s dirty work (and not only doesn’t benefit but actually suffers for it).

These microfictions are so short they can be summed up with just a simple visual emblem, something like a hieroglyph of a situation.  Like the one here made for a little plate, one of twelve in the British Museum, based on the fable illustrations in a wonderful old book illustrated by Marcus Gheeraerts

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