Furry friend? A likely tail

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
THE IMPROBABLE CAT. By Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Peter Bailey. Puffin pound;7.99

FAR OUT! By Rachel Billington. Hodder pound;4.99

YOU CAN'T KISS IT BETTER. By Diana Hendry. Red Fox pound;4.99

Allan Ahlberg has followed My Brother's Ghost with another immaculate small-format novella, The Improbable Cat, recommended for anyone from age 10 to adult.

A kitten insinuates itself into 12-year-old David's home, then grows quickly into a fat cat, imposing its will on the family. David refuses to stroke the cat out of loyalty to his dog Billy, and so remains immune to its sinister charms.

Atmospherically illustrated by Peter Bailey, and written with supreme mastery of tone, The Improbable Cat is more unsettling, and more shocking, than books that set out to achieve those ends in formulaic fashion.

Rachel Billington's Far Out! and Diana Hendry's You Can't Kiss It Better are full-length novels for the older end of key stage 2.

Billington's is the lighter read. The main characters audition for "life" without knowing what this entails. A dreamlike sequence of events culminates in a trip to an exotic island. The effect is like a Philip Ridley novel written in a more orthodox style.

Hendry's fiction often focuses on one household. Here the house belongs to Megan, who is fostering four looked-after children.

Set in Edinburgh, and based on close contacts with the service agencies, this is a moving story with the atmosphere of real-life drama-documentary.

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