Some children’s books
by other authors

recommended by Kellie Strøm

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Cat Stories

There are so many cats in children’s books that it’s hard to know where to start. Of course there’s not many of them that can fly a plane, but they do drive cars, sail ships, ride fire engines and say meow. Some of them can even swim!

The Little Cat Baby

The Little Cat BabyFirst place goes to The Little Cat Baby, by Allan Ahlberg and Fritz Wegner. This is a surreal tale set once upon a topsy turvy time, when babies came from baby shops, and that’s just the beginning. It’s one of Mr.Ahlberg’s best, up there with Burglar Bill, Bye Bye Baby and Funnybones. Mr. Wegner is also at his peak here, with his lively detailed line and wash drawings.

The Little Cat Baby cover detailIf the prolific Allan Ahlberg has more books out of print than in, then it’s only because the presses are incapable of keeping up with the supply as well as with the demand. Online you can find interviews with him at ACHUKA and The Guardian. Puffin Books also have a substantial profile of Janet and Allan Ahlberg on their site.

Information on Fritz Wegner is not as widespread, but there is an excellent article by Gillian Lathey available as a PDF via Ingenta Connect. Titled ‘Eulenspiegel to Owlyglass: The Impact of the Work of the Exiled Illustrators Walter Trier and Fritz Wegner on British Children’s Literature’, it’s from issue four of the Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, also available in the old printed and bound form here.

The Cornish Cats Who Went to Sea

The Cornish Cats Who Went to SeaNext, The Cornish Cats Who Went to Sea, by Michelle Cartlidge.

This was a book I picked up on holiday, in Cornwall of course. This crew of cats show no fear of water! When they have a hard time scrounging fish at the quayside, the kitties set to sea to fish for themselves. It’s a simple warm tale, and good to read aloud.

For more stories of the sea, take a look here.

Orlando, the Marmalade Cat

Orlando the Marmalade CatKathleen Hale’s Orlando books are very unusual in their combination of warm characters, strong design and whimsical humour.

Particular favourites of mine are A Camping Holiday, with all its oversized beetles, caterpillars, tadpoles and snails, a complete portrayal of the basic adventure of living outdoors, and Orlando Keeps A Dog, in which we meet ‘Beel’, or rather Bill, the French poodle, and his secretary Flute, a copy-cat.

Kathleen Hale’s original art for the Orlando books were created by hand-drawing the separations for each colour lithographic plate, giving a look that is strongly designed yet shows the human touch throughout. They remind me in some ways of her American contemporary, Virginia Lee Burton.

Online there’s a 1998 interview with her approaching her 100th birthday from the Daily Telegraph. A leaflet from a Manchester Metropolitan University exhibit on autolithography, including details of Kathleen Hale’s use of the technique, is available as a PDF, or you can view Google’s HTML version. From Reading university Library comes another PDF, this one concerning her time as a student in Reading, and looking at one of her books in the Library collection, Orlando Buys A Farm. This PDF leaflet is heavily illustrated and a very nice introduction to her style.

Jenny Linsky

The Cat Club, Or, The Life and Times of Jenny LinskyEsther Averill’s Jenny Linsky stories, now in new editions from the NYRB, have become an obsession in this house. Someday I’ll tell you the story of the Jenny Linsky scarf we had made specially for our lad Bo’s sixth birthday, but not now.

Instead, let me just say these are great stories, mostly longer tales like the ones collected in Jenny and the Cat Club, but there’s also one picture book, Jenny’s Birthday Book, and the related ‘I Can Read’ book, The Fire Cat, both of which are great for younger readers as well.

Cat-A-Day Tales

The Cat-A-Day TalesMunicipal regulations demand that every café and restaurant in Amsterdam have at least one cat stationed on the premises. Why? I have no idea, but any visitor returning from there will tell you that it’s so.

From Amsterdam, then, come The Cat-A-Day Tales, short stories for slightly older readers by Aletta Schreuders, with drawings by Herwolt van Doornen and music by Anne Soldaat, Petter Folkedal and Brian Protheroe. Yes, this is a book to read, look at, plan your year by, and listen to when nerves are frayed. The tales tell of some precocious kittens, and their adventures when mama and papa are away. Beautiful.

kellie

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Written September 2007