Simply purrfect

7th March 1997 at 00:00
Feline fables have a universal attraction. Naomi Lewis considers a cluster of cat tales. NO CATS ALLOWED By Lois Simmie, illustrated by Cynthia Nugent Bloomsbury Pounds 8.99

TOMCAT TAKES A WALK By Pippa Unwin, Andersen Pounds 8.99

GINGER By Charlotte Voake, Walker Pounds 9.99

Cat picture books have little chance of failing as long as cats remain themselves: non-vertical, no human clothes (these belong in other kinds of story). Every cat has a natural elegance, whatever its act or attitude. What other creature can look at its most spiritual when performing the least ethereal of its functions?

There is, moreover, a special link between cat and human life, taking in humour, enigma and grief. And in every human-cat relationship, a game, not unlike the game of love, is continually played out. Who wins? The final parting sometimes gives an answer.

There are no final partings in the books below, all for the very young. But some aspects of the game are certainly explored. No Cats Allowed, large and handsome, is a recognisable comedy of human and cat behaviour. When hotel manager Mr Foster perceives a silver-grey creature, bedraggled by rain, at his window, he briefly lets the waif inside. Then, says Mr F, when the storm is over, it must go. Seven years later, when the cat is an essential feature of the hotel, Mr Foster is still murmuring: "He must go." How odd that he has a painting of puss on his office wall, and that he personally rushed the cat to a vet after an accident.

The raccoon episode (the story comes from Canada) is sure to raise a query or two. Best look up a few zoological facts before the asking starts.Why is the raccoon a baddy, by the way?

Except for a small and lovely frontispiece (cat in a midnight stormy landscape) the pictures are mostly hotel scenes, an unremarkable backcloth to our hero's ploys. He holds the stage, of course. The longish text could be read to children up to the age of five or so.

Pippa Unwin's inviting cover to Tomcat Takes a Walk should guarantee that the book is opened - and that's an important start. But what lies within? A day-by-day account of a busy week in the life of a village cat. Here he is, seeing his owner off at the railway station, visiting the teashop and the playschool, falling into the stream, sleeping in the mail van and being returned home by special delivery - and more. There's plenty to rouse enquiry, comment and (now and then) mirth. Tomcat makes a personable hero; endpapers give a panoramic view of the village scene, so you can follow his course. This one gets a B.

Ginger, by Charlotte Voake, is (apparently) the simplest of these books - one human, two cats, only the most essential scenery - but it is not the least perceptive. Indeed, it is as perfect a book for the very young as I can bring to mind.

Ginger lives a happy life with a little girl (she looks about four). But one day she brings in a kitten - "a nice new friend for you, Ginger". Ginger does not want a friend. The little thing will not leave him in peace. It eats from his dish, joins him in his basket - and maybe shares his bond with the little girl.

Ginger decides to go. So he pads into the rainy garden and sits mournfully under a bush. Little girl, anxious, steps out into the rain, finds Ginger and brings him home. Kitten is given a tiny dish of its own and a small cardboard box to sleep in. Kitten loves it. "What's this?" thinks Ginger. The ending is absurdly funny and - like the rest of the book - entirely true to cat behaviour.

Unusually, the pictures give equal attention to child and feline. Few illustrators seem at ease with both. The text, in its beautiful large print, is a lure to halfway readers.

This brilliant little book will be enjoyed by more than the target audience of one to four-year-olds.

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