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The Improbable Cat


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In the early 1960s, Allan studied teacher training in Sunderland, where he also met Janet, his future wife. He had tackled a wide variety of jobs, ranging from postman to plumber's mate before working as a primary teacher for ten years. Janet, however, discovering that she 'couldn't do the policing job', went on to study graphic design, which led her to her vocation as an illustrator. Several years later, bored with her then current job, and desperate for a creative opening, Janet asked Allan to write a children's book for her to illustrate. Allan, having always wanted to write but being unable to find his niche, suddenly felt 'as though he was a clockwork toy and she had turned the key'. So began the career which would later lead them to become one of Britain's most successful author/illustrator teams, producing ingenious books of the highest quality. Influenced by comics and cartoons, their perfect partnership went on to produce masterpieces including PEEPO!, which reflected Allan's childhood ('I am the Peepo! baby.'), EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM and THE BABY'S CATALOGUE. These books have all become children's classics, with their 'rhythmic prose, their mix of dottiness and sentiment appealing both to young children and to the parents who read them aloud' (Louette Harding, The Daily Mail). Working together, they saw their books as more than simply the combin


Davy, the narrator of Ahlberg's (Each Peach Pear Plum) curious, dark tale tells of an event that occurred when he was 12, "something crazy impossible horrific." He describes how his father, mother and sister become "besotted" with a kitten that limps onto their lawn. In no time at all, the boy notices peculiar goings-on. The new pet grows from a feline that fits into a flowerpot into a cat of monstrous proportions. His mother abandons her activism work, behaves "like a zombie" and takes up smoking. His normally nattily dressed father now looks scruffy and begins drinking sherry. His sister sits on the sofa, patting the cat, her face flushed, "her eyes heavy and glazed." Spellbound, all three cater to this TV-obsessed cat's every whim as the house grows increasingly gloomy ("A kind of gauze hung over things") and Davy begins to suspect that the hypnotic pet is "a dangerous creature." The tale's violent denouement involves a cat-and-dog showdown during which the house catches fire, and the cat hurls itself through a window and is hit by a lorry (it lay "crushed and mangled, flattened between a giant tanker and the Co-op Bakery wall)." Sprinkled with Briticisms, the narrative features some snappy writing, and cross-hatch pen-and-inks nicely dramatize the enigmatic developments. Yet this oddly inconclusive and eerie novel may bewilder readers more than entertain them. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Gr 4-6-In this story of a supernatural and omnivorous cat, 12-year-old David is suspicious when a kitten seems to stupefy his family into obeying its orders when they pat it. The boy is immune to this magic, being allergic to cats and loyal to his dog, Billy. Ahlberg piles on some wonderful detail as the moony and distracted parents cater to the cat's exotic tastes and the animal gets bigger and bigger. On seeing the creature, David's friend George utters an astonished "Christ!" When David returns from a school camping trip, he finds the cat has morphed into a chair-sitting animal drinking wine from a glass, his father is drunk, and the household is a darkened dump. The boy takes action but neither poisoning, trickery, nor hand-to-paw combat work to defeat the devilishly powerful cat. It takes Billy and all of his canine friends to drive the feline from the house. This story reads like an extended folktale, with vocabulary that will challenge younger readers both with British expressions and by Ahlberg's literate narrator. With its small format and Bailey's appealing black-line drawings, this book is likely to appeal to readers younger than the appropriate audience. But for those sophisticated children who love a scary story, this grounds the supernatural scariness in a very literal, frighteningly realistic, and violent setting in the manner of cinema and television. Readers: Beware the cat.-Susan Hepler, Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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