The Catawampus Cat

The Catawampus Cat

The Catawampus Cat









The Catawampus Cat

Jason Carter Eaton

Gus Gordon

Viking 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Dictionaries define ‘catawampus’ as ‘out of alignment’, ‘crooked’, ‘askew’ ‘awry’… but when the catawampus cat arrived in town early on Tuesday morning nobody really noticed.  People went about their busy business as usual until the cat caught the eye of Mr Grouse the grocer who tried to straighten him.  To no avail.  But when his wife Lydia tilted her head to figure out what was wrong with the cat, her life changed.  As did that of the barber’s client who found herself with a unique haircut; the painter whose boring job on the mayor’s house suddenly became a work of art; and Captain Whizzbang set a record he was not even trying to do!  Even the town librarian found herself taking a new path and as for Bushy Brows Billiam…

Meanwhile the cat moves nonchalantly on, in contrast to  the life of the town with its unceasing traffic and frenetic people all captured in the delightful, detailed illustrations that emphasise the non-stop nature of city life.  As the town begins to learn to look at life from a new angle (literally) Mayor Meyer declares Catawampus Cat Day but the catawampus cat has a different idea.

This is a quirky story that illustrates the quirky nature of cats and their ability to ignore, if not disdain, the actions of humans. There is a lot of clever wordplay and  graphics that entertain the adult reader but mostly young readers will love the aloofness of the cat and will relate to its ability to be totally engaged on itself, and not be distracted by anything going on around it. At the very least they will love their new word and the way it rolls of the tongue!  Charming!

The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots

The Tale of Miss Kitty-in-Boots

The Tale of  Kitty-in-Boots










The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots

Beatrix Potter

Quentin Blake

Frederick Warne, 2016

72pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


By day, Miss Catherine St Quintin appeared to be a very serious, well-behaved black cat who answered to “Kitty” whenever the kind old lady who owned her called her.  The old lady saw a “Kitty” with all the pleasant connotations that that name brings to mind but Miss Catherine St Quintin led a double life.

Becaue by night, when she was supposedly locked in the wash-house, Kitty was not curled up in her basket dreaming sweet dreams until morning. For she was not the purring, nuzzling, gentle cat her owner believed her to be.  Known to her more common cat friends as “Q” and “Squintums”, she would leap out the laundry window to be replaced by Winkiepeeps, another black cat who would wait inside until Kitty came home just in case the old lady checked her, while she went hunting dressed in her coat and boots and carrying an air rifle.  A female lookalike of Puss-in-Boots.

This particular night she collects her gun from her friend Cheesebox, determined to join Slimmy Jimmy and John Stoat-Ferret as they hunt for rabbits.  However, she decides to hunt for mice instead, but being a rather unreliable and careless shooter, that is not is not very fruitful only managing to shoot Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s bundle of washing and some sticks and stones that weren’t mice at all.  Sheep and crows seem a better target until they send her scurrying behind a wall in fright and she gets a big surprise when she fires at something coming out of a hole.  Unexpectedly she has met up with Slimmy Jimmy and John Stoat-Ferret who take her gun off her.  But she refuses to hand over the pellets and so a rather adventurous night involving the ferrets, Peter Rabbit, Mr Tod the Fox and Mrs Tiggy-Winkles begins.  Suffice to say, it’s enough to put  Miss Catherine St Quintin off hunting for ever.

The story of this story is as interesting as the tale itself.  Potter completed the text in 1914 and created just one illustration but the outbreak of World War I and other events meant she never completed the rest.  Thus the story went unpublished in her lifetime.  Undiscovered until Penguin Random House editor Jo Hanks found it in the Potter archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013 and with  Quentin Blake accepting the invitation to illustrate it, it has just been published to coincide with what would have been Potter’s 150th birthday.

Fans of her works will be thrilled to share just one more adventure from this prolific creator and delight in the appearance of an older, more portly Peter Rabbit who has lost none of his smarts and wily ways as well as other favourite characters from her other books.

The only illustration that Potter completed for the book,

The only illustration for the book that Potter completed

To honour Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday the UK has released a commemorative stamp collection.

Copy Cat

Copy Cat

Copy Cat










Copy Cat

Ali Pye

Nosy Crow, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Bella loves Anna so much that she wants to be just like her – so much so that she copies everything Anna does.  Whether it’s playing with the hula hoop, being a ballerina or a pirate, Bella is right there being Anna’s mirror.  But trouble erupts when Anna decides to be a princess and Bella copies her as usual, but there is just one crown…  Anna gets very cross and tells Bella to stop copying her and goes off to play be herself. 

At first Bella is sad because she has no one to copy and no one to play with – and then she discovers a skipping rope in her toybox.  And as she practises and practises, Chloe looks on wishing she could skip too.

“It’s easy!” said Bella.  “Just copy me!” 

And then Anna comes looking for Bella…

Even though this story stars three cats, it could quite easily focus on three children in the playground so well does it reflect the different dynamics of friendships and activities as they ebb and flow.  Told with a lot of repetitive text that invites the young reader to join in, it not only engages them that but also opens up opportunities to talk about friendships and how to make and maintain them.  The eye-catching, colourful illustrations add an extra dimension to this well-told tale that is perfect for early childhood readers who enjoy something a little different. 

Macavity’s Not There

Macavity's Not There

Macavity’s Not There











Macavity’s Not There

T. S. Eliot

Arthur Robins

Faber & Faber, 2016

16pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


In 1939, T.S. Eliot wrote his iconic Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats which became the foundation for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats. Within that collection, is a poem which begins

Macavity’s a mystery cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw…

For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime–Macavity’s not there!

 It goes on…

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in

 Drawing on those two lines as the starting point and the constant refrain of the original of “Macavity’s not there” , Arthur Robins has again relied on the poem to create a wonderful lift-the-flap book encouraging young children to investigate just where this elusive cat might be.  Is he in the bedroom? The bathroom? Perhaps the kitchen? Maybe the rabbit hutch?  Ahhh- there he is!  Why didn’t we think of there in the first place?

Using very distinctive illustrations, Robins brings Macavity to life just as he did in his 2014 version of the original poem by T.S. Eliot.  But as well as engaging the young listener is the fun of discovering Macavity’s whereabouts, enticing them to suggest other places to look before turning the page, it’s a wonderful opportunity to explore language associated with cats – perhaps based on their observations of their own.  Are they always sweet, playful fluffy kittens or can they be mischievous, cunning, aloof, even fierce?  Using the cover picture, which words would they use to describe Macavity?  Can you take a photo of a cat they know and surround it with vocabulary?  Can you do a comparison chart between their cat, Macavity and other cats in literature?

Building their language and broadening their concepts about cats will be a great bridge to sharing the Robins’ version of the original and then travelling on to his Mr Mistofolees  and Skimbleshanks  so they can savour the beauty of the rhyme and rhythm of Eliot’s creations, marvel at his ability to tell a story and paint a picture in so few words and maybe even enjoy a performance of Cats. At the very least, they will be introduced to some superb poetry that may linger with them throughout their lives, as it has with me!

Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat

Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat

Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat










Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat

Emily MacKenzie

Bloomsbury, 2016

3299., pbk., RRP $A15.99



Stanley LOVES to knit. He knocks up pom-poms at breakfast time, whips up bobble hats at bath time. He even knits in his sleep! And what does Stanley do with his wonderful woollies? He gives them to his friends of course – balaclavas for bunnies, neckwarmers for giraffes and much more. All of his friends sport one of his creations – even the monkeys have woolly onesies!    One day Stanley sees a poster for a knitting competition inviting entrants to submit their wackiest woolly wonders.  And so Stanley begins to knit…and knit…and knit!  No one knows what it is he is creating  but trouble strikes when he runs out of wool.  Suddenly his friends find their precious gifts being unravelled as Stanley continues on his ques, leaving them cold and unhappy. 

But when all is revealed on the day of the competition when amongst they knitted dragons and cakes and dinosaurs and toadstools they discover…

This is a quirky story full of colour and light and love from a Scottish author/illustrator who has combined her love of knitting and drawing.  It will appeal to young readers who can let their imaginations go wild as they consider what sort of garments they might make for Stanley’s friends.    

Squishy McFluff the Invisible Cat: Secret Santa

Secret Santa

Secret Santa









Squishy McFluff, the Invisible Cat: Secret Santa

Pip Jones

Ellie Okstad

Faber and Faber, 2015

pbk, 80pp., RRP $A12.99



Squishy McFluff is so sweet, you’ll be smitten.
Such a clever and funny invisible kitten!

Imagine the fun of having a cat that only you can see, especially when it is really good at inventing great things to do like playing hide-and-seek at which he is world champion.  This is Ava’s luck.   She has a big imagination and is happiest when she’s playing with her cat, even though it can lead to trouble – which is exactly what happens in this latest addition to this series.

It’s nearly Christmas and Ava and Squishy are very excited.  But there are still preparations to be made, like buying the last minute things which means going into town where all is decorations and celebrations.  The trouble begins when Ava spots the wonky star at the top of the Christmas tree… The next day it is time to wrap the presents and when Mum says to wrap EVERYTHING, she is taken at her word… For someone who was trying to be good through all of December, this might not have a pretty ending for Ava, but she has one special thing she wants so she writes Santa a letter.

Young children will love this series from this English author as it holds many laughs and just a little bit of naughty. Written in rhyme it bounces along and Ella Okstad’s limited-palette illustrations are charming, capturing the essence of the text perfectly.

For those who can’t get enough of him, there’s a website with extra information and more fun and games at

This is something a little bit different to offer those just getting started on their independent reading journey who need a bit of support through short chapters, larger font and uncomplicated vocabulary – I think they will be eagerly awaiting the next adventure.  Perfect for putting aside for this year’s Christmas Countdown.

Jingle Paws

Jingle Paws

Jingle Paws











Jingle Paws

Margaret Wise Brown

Alessandro Psacharopulo

Parragon Publishing, 2014

32pp., hbk


It’s Christmas Eve and the house is silent and still.  Everything is laid out ready for Santa when a tiny mouse nibbles on one of the treats and squeaks in delight.  That wakes Cat who leaps off the bed and races through the house looking for that mouse.  But Mouse is fast and sneaky and manages to elude Cat. But sudden’y, there is a noise far louder than a mouse and down the chimney tumbles a dog and four guinea pigs!  It’s Jingle Paws and his helpers.  He’s the pet’s Santa Claus and has gifts for them all.  After gobbling up the treats, he’s gone as fast as he came in a sleigh pulled by the guinea pigs – but he’s left something special in his wake.

Written in rhyme, this is a delightful festive tale that is original and enchanting.  Young children will love the idea of their pets having their very own Santa and no doubt will be wanting to put a stocking out for their pets too.  I wonder what Jingle Paws would give three chooks and a goldfish.


Itty Bitty Kitty

Itty Bitty Kitty

Itty Bitty Kitty








Itty Bitty Kitty

Joan Holub

James Birks

HarperCollins, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Like many little people, Ava’s greatest wish is to have a pet of her own but her parents believe she is too small.  Besides, with a new baby and her dad’s work her parents are busy enough already.  However, Ava is not deterred and when she finds a “furry purry, snuggly huggly, cutie patootie itty bitty kitty” abandoned in a box near the seat at the end of her street she thinks her dreams have come true.  Even though she wants her parents’ permission, they’re too busy to listen and so she decides to keep Itty Bitty a secret.  He was just what she wanted but sadly he didn’t stay itty-bitty for long – he was a very hungry kitty – and the damage bills kept mounting.  Disaster strikes when he escapes from her room and he ‘scared the fish, broke a dish, chased a bug, clawed the rug, leaped from a cupboard and got  DISCOVERED!”  Ava is devastated and it seems that Itty Bitty Kitty is to be abandoned yet again until…

This is a story that will appeal to young readers, particularly those who empathise with Ava in their own quest for a pet, but also because of the internal rhyme structures in places that give the text a lyrical rhythm.  There is no repetitive phrase for them to anticipate and shout out but the story moves along at a fast clip and the ending, while predictable, is satisfying.  The illustrations are big and bright and bold, almost cartoon-like, and right from the front cover it is clear that this is anything but an itty bitty kitty setting up the reader for a story of contradiction!

While Joan Holub as an author is new to me, she is cited as being the “ New York Times bestselling author of Mighty Dads. She is also author and/or illustrator of over 130 books for children, including author of the picture books Little Red Writing and Zero the Hero, and co-author of the bestselling Goddess Girls and Grimmtastic Girls chapter book series.”  There is a new Itty Bitty Kitty adventure due early next year.

Remarkably Rexy

Remarkably Rexy

Remarkably Rexy










Remarkably Rexy

Craig Smith

Allen & Unwin, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Rex is the most dazzling cat on Serengeti Street and has been for years.  Proud and majestic, and maybe brave, he is a superstar.  Grooming himself to perfection, he goes out onto the footpath to wait for the kids on their way to school.  While he waits, he practises his dance steps ready to accept their accolades with aplomb.  But just as they arrive, an interloper arrives and puts on her own show.  Pretty Pamela is going to outdo Remarkable Rex. Even though he pretends to ignore her, deep down he is worried.  Perhaps he is no longer the star of Serengeti Street!  Until suddenly the show is interrupted as Towser escapes and chases the cats.  Rex heads up the nearest tree while Pamela races off.  But this is not the end of Rex’s troubles…

Even though his career spans 40 years and 380 titles, this is the first book that Craig Smith has both written and illustrated and it’s delightful, full of his signature humour and quirkiness.  From the masterful portrait of one who knows his own magnificence on the front cover, to the enchanting endpapers which reinforce Rex’s position in the neighbourhood to the vignettes of Rex’s preparation for his fans, Smith has captured the mood and manners of this fabulous feline perfectly.  In fact, Shaun Tan says, “You will not find a more charming, sympathetic or beautifully drawn examination of complete feline (and completely human) self-obsession.”

Young readers will absolutely love Rex – they will laugh out loud and hold their breath and then ponder at the ending.  Rex may well be remarkable, but so is this book!! 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Lara of Newtown

Lara of Newtown

Lara of Newtown











Lara of Newtown

Chris McKimmie

Allen & Unwin, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


When Misty’s owner becomes too old to look after, Misty is left wrapped in a basket and left like an abandoned baby on a restaurant doorstep in a busy street in Newtown, Sydney.   While she was well-cared for during the day, at night she was put in a cage and waited for the long night to pass.  All Misty wanted was a new home and to be loved as she had been.  One day her dreams came true and she was presented as a pet to Noni Nice of Pymble.  But when Misty did cat things like eating the budgie, she soon found herself back out on the street again having to fend for herself.  Until she was found by the Kafoopses who rename her Lara… Is this the home that she has been looking for?

Author-illustrator Chris McKimmie is gaining a reputation for creating quirky picture books that have many layers to them which is why they appeal to a wide audience.  Lara of Newtown is no exception.  Written from Lara’s perspective, the reader is drawn into the world of the abandoned cat and what it feels like to be so alone and unwanted. Even though McKimmie draws a bleak picture of life on the streets, nevertheless throughout there is always a glimmer of hope that this story will have a happy ending.  There are some very clever lines that give it an adult appeal too – look for the Bob Dylan reference – as well as a number of clever references in the details in the artworks like the low-flying plane being part of Duck Airlines.    

As well as McKimmie’s iconic illustrative style, there are a number of other illustrations interspersed throughout which are creations of the children in McKimmie’s life that add another layer, all of which are acknowledged on the publication page.  Even Misty/Lara is based on a drawing by a four-year-old. This approach, along with the random choices of font for the text lighten the theme of the story and add a touch of humour. Busy pages reflect the frenetic pace of parts of the story while those where Lara is alone and down are more subdued and empty.  There is a very clever meeting of visual effects mirroring mood and emotion.

On occasion McKimmie has created stories that some younger readers need help to interpret to appreciate fully, but even on just the surface level Lara of Newtown is a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever had a pet as well as giving pause to ponder the stories of those we know are unwanted for whatever reason.  It could lead to interesting discussions about the morality of abandoning them, the annual message of ensuring pets are wanted before you give them as gifts, perhaps even the compulsory neutering of pets. Over and above that there is the theme of identity and the need to belong and to be loved that is very human.  Food for thought.