Nine lives of cats in children’s literature

Monday, February 25, 2019 - 15:31

This Easter we’re all set to be feline fine as we welcome a stage adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Tabby McTat for eight days of fur-ocious fun. But whilst our production team busy themselves fixing a huge cat flap to our Queen Elizabeth Hall, we’ve been wondering about the many other great cats in children’s literature. Here’s nine of our favourite fictional moggies.

Illustration of Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots

It’s amazing what a new pair of shoes can do for your self-esteem. The traditional fairytale of Puss in Boots tells of a calculating cat who takes matters into his own, er, paws, in order to improve the life and status of his master. The stylishly shoed moggy enacts an elaborate plot in order to have the King believe his master is not merely a miller’s son, but is actually the Marquis of Carabas. His plan is a success, earning his master the hand of a princess and the cat all the mice he can eat. As Carlo Collodi’s Italian translation of the story notes, this is a tale that ‘gives useful advice if you happen to be a cat or a Marquis of Carabas’.

Illustration of The Cheshire Cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The Cheshire Cat

Known for its distinctive mischievous grin, The Cheshire Cat of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is a curious feline. Able to appear and disappear at will, it engages, delight and annoys Alice in seemingly equal measure and has a tendency to speak in a perplexing philosophical manner. And though not depicted that way by Lewis Carroll, thanks to Walt Disney’s 1951 Alice in Wonderland animation, the cat remains forever etched in our minds as being a decidedly unnatural pink and purple.

Front cover of the illustrated children's book The Tale of Tom Kitten

Tom Kitten

First published in 1907, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Tom Kitten is a story about manners and children’s reactions to them. Tom is one of three unruly kittens – his sisters Moppet and Mittens being the others – who disobey their mum’s orders to stay clean and out of trouble ahead of a visit from friends. Such is Tom Kitten’s mischievous streak that Potter promises to one day “make another, larger, book, to tell you more about Tom Kitten!”

Tigger

Tiggers are cats right? And besides ‘the wonderful thing about tiggers is tiggers are wonderful things’. The happy-go-lucky Tigger is first introduced to us in A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner (1928) when he arrives on Winnie the Pooh’s doorstep in the middle of the night. With his love of bouncing and his insistent enthusiasm that pretty much everything is what ‘Tiggers like best’ or ‘Tiggers do best’ he has long been one of the most popular felines in children’s literature.

 

Front cover of the popular children's book The Cat in the Hat

The Cat in the Hat

If you happened to grow up in the United States then the first cat to come to mind would undoubtedly be Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat. First published in 1957 as an antidote to the dry early reading books that existed in American schools at the time Seuss’ book was an instant success. In his red and white striped hat and red bow tie The Cat appears at the door of Sally and her brother determined to entertain them on a gloomy day, despite the protestations of the family fish.

Front cover of the children's book Mog the Forgetful Cat

Mog

Created by Judith Kerr – who also gave us another famous feline of children’s literature in The Tiger Who Came to Tea – Mog appeared in a remarkable 17 different books, beginning with Mog - The Forgetful Cat in 1970. Owned by Mr and Mrs Thomas and their two children Nicky and Debbie, Mog gets itself into a different conundrum in each story, until the poignant 17th story, Goodbye Mog (2002) in which the poor puss passes away.

Cover of the children's book Meg and Mog

Mog

Yes, another fictional Mog, and another that first found its way onto children’s bookshelves in the 1970s. This is Mog of the Meg and Mog books (by Helen Nicoll and illustrator Jan Pieńkowski) which follow the adventures of a witch (Meg), her stripey cat (Mog) and their friend Owl. Though a well-meaning witch, Meg’s spells don’t always go according to plan, but that doesn’t seem to bother Mog who, like most cats, is pretty happy so long as he gets fed.

Six Dinner Sid

Inga Moore’s book is a classic expose story in which she lifts the lid on the devious nature of cats. Sort of. Six Dinner Sid tells the story of Sid, a very satisfied cat who has six different owners, and as a result enjoys six different dinners and six different fusses, until he gets a cold. And then has to endure six different trips to the vet, meaning Sid’s secret sextuple life is found out. Does Sid learn the error of his ways and settle into a single home? Spoiler alert, nope, the greedy puss just moves on to the next street.

Tabby McTat. Image credit: Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Tabby McTat

Created by Julia Donaldson and brought to life by the illustrations of Axel Scheffler – the duo behind The GruffaloTabby McTat is a cat with the loudest of meows and a guitar-playing best friend called Fred. Together they sing their favourite songs delighting the crowds, until one day Fred disappears. Donaldson’s popular story follows Tabby’s solitary onward journey first to a new home, and then in search for his lost friend.

 


 

The story of Tabby McTat comes to Southbank Centre 6 - 13 April, 2019 as we host a run of special performances from Freckle Productions featuring original songs from Julia Donaldson’s book, and a sprinkling of magic. 

book tickets   find out more

 

Main image, and final featured image: Tabby McTat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler