Multicultural Children’s Book Day January 27th

The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt (Pushkin Children’s Books)

Annie M.G. Schmidt is the undisputed Queen of Netherlands’ children’s literature. She is part of the Canon of Dutch children’s history, alongside Anne Frank and Vincent Van Gogh. This title, a classic, included in the Junior School reading curriculum in the Netherlands, gives a clear indication for the regard in which she is held.

Tibble is a failing, frightened reporter, only comfortable when at home in his attic apartment with his large grey cat, Fluff, or writing stories about cats. However, the day he finds a woman stuck high in a tree, changes his life. 

Minou forces Tibble to take risks, feeds him newsworthy stories from around the town in return for a cardboard box in which to sleep, and a ready supply of fish. Minou attempts to behave as a human but she is cattish- ‘whenever Minou got angry, she got into her box to sulk.’ Tibble reminds her, ‘And remember, no purring, no hiding, and don’t rub up against anyone, not even the fishmonger.’

Minou’s cattish pedigree and relationship with the cats in the town offer Tibble an opportunity to step from behind the shadows in the climax of the story, when Minou reveals who really knocked over the fishmonger and drove away.

This story is beautifully translated and beautifully told. I understand why it has been valued and shared for so many years. Annie M.G. Schmidt neither anthropomorsises nor idealises her feline characters; they are depicted in their true furry ways, e.g., (She had)- ‘a very unpleasant look in her eye… just like that time with a mouse.’

The characters are described and named so as to fit their setting:- Deodorant cat, of the perfume factory, Ecumenica cat, who lives in the church, Muffin, the bakery cat, Metropole cat, who frequents the luxury hotel. There is a real affection for her characters, even the stray Tatter cat, who demonstrates courage and battle worn experience of humans and dogs. Minou realises, when Tatter’s latest kittens face danger,’ She was always calling them names, but she was so proud of her children.’ 

There is a rich vein of children’s literature from many sources around the world that Bookwagon is determined to present to you. Reading widely is vital to all children’s literary appreciation and development. ‘The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof’ is a recommended inclusion in this pursuit. Bronnie

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