What do cats dream of?

posted in: Jackie Morris | 17

I am Cat by Jackie Morris is an elegiac hymn about the regal, proud and stunningly beautiful nature of wild cats. The book opens with the eponymous Cat, a domestic ginger tom, sleeping and dreaming, dreaming of other cats’ lives; of the Cheetah, “the sharp-eyed running cat, / fast as the wind over the bleached plains of Africa“, the Snow Leopard “on the roof of the world“, the Scottish Wildcat, “solitary, and fierce, ancient, almost a memory” as well as the Lion, Tiger, Cheetah, Lynx and more.

Morris’ poetic text takes us out from our cosy homes with the real or imagined cat curled up on our laps, and whisks us around the world, opening windows into other ways of being, other landscapes, other lives. Don’t we all (human or cat) daydream occasionally about what it is like to be other than we are, and surely this is some of the appeal of this stately book.

With somewhat bittersweet appropriateness (given that many of the cats featured in this book are endangered) Morris’s illustrations give the cats a mythic, legendary stature. The scale, the richness of colour, the composition of each illustration is marvellous, fabulous [f Fr. fabuleux, f. L fabula, FABLE]; unfortunately it may not be too long before cats such as the Amur Leopard are only known through stories, or images of snow leopards are looked on as being so beautiful that they must be the product of fantasy (or why else would we not have done more to save them?).

For some, the regality of the images may may not be to their taste. But for all its glorious grandeur, this book surely has warm humour at its heart; looking at the moggies I’ve known and loved and thinking of them thinking of themselves as the king of the jungle puts a big smile on my face.

A cat I know who definitely has regal dreams!

It also matters to me (acknowledging my inevitable role as a gatekeeper of books) that this book for children has such rich painting in it; it’s not a technique you see in books so often these day. Many children’s book illustrations currently owe more to comic illustration styles, collage or digital manipulation than to painting and I think it is hugely important to share books with very different visual aesthetics with our children. We encourage them to read different styles of text, and we must surely enable them also to experience different types of book art too. My experience of sharing this book with my own children, and the children I volunteer with, is that they respond to these images with quiet awe and a sense of wonder.

There are many lovely picture books about the secret lives of cats, including When Martha’s Away by Bruce Ingman, It’s a Secret by John Burningham, Six dinner Sid by Inga Moore, Fred by Posy Simmonds, Slobcat by Paul Geraghty, Diabolical Mr Tiddles by Tom Mclaughlin and My Cat Just Sleeps by Joanne Partis and I am Cat is a thoughtful and moving addition to this collection, giving us a peep into the secret interior world of our feline friends. I’d love to see this glorious book shelved three times in libraries, bookshops and homes: Part paean, part non-fiction (the book closes with two pages devoted to factual information about each of the 10 wild cats highlighted by Morris, including information on their location, habitat and lifestyle), this stunning picture book could be found on the poetry shelves, the information shelves, or simply on the shelves providing sources of imagination.

If you’d like to find out more about the background to I am Cat don’t miss this interview with Jackie Morris by Saviour Pirotta.

Having luxuriated in I am Cat (for that is indeed what Morris’ paintings invite you to do), we decided to create a Big Cat Dream Catcher.

Inspired by Morris’ technique we used watercolours (and inks) to paint several big cats, thinking about the different sorts of markings they have on their coats.

We then cut them out and hung them off a frame which we’d woven with ribbons to look like a little like a Native American dream catcher.

Whilst painting and weaving we listened to (and danced to):

  • Eye Of The Tiger by Survivor
  • Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons (not all the lyrics to this song are kid friendly though)
  • The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens
  • Cool For Cats by Squeeze

  • Other activities which would go well alongside reading this book include:

  • Losing hours of your time watching this live kitten cam… (thanks to my sister for the link)
  • Trying to paint your own cat, or a cat who visits you. Life painting is always an interesting thing to try with kids, even more so when the model is on the move!
  • Learning more about big cats from the National Geographic


  • Thanks to buddies on Twitter for help jogging my memory about books featuring the secret lives of cats. @pollylwh @OlivaceousD @AnVrombaut @laughinglibby @blogshank @LaytonNeal @cguillain @sarahkimbo @childledchaos @bridgeanne @readitdaddy @elephantthai @aitcheldee @mstick68 @damyantipatel were all generous and helpful with their suggestions.

    Today’s Picture Book Month theme is cats. Have you got a favourite cat book (about secret lives or otherwise)?

    Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book I’ve reviewed today from the publisher. I was under no obligation to review the books and I received no money for this post. This seems a particularly important disclosure today as it was with some disappointment that I read Jackie Morris is offering the chance to win a piece of her artwork in return for an Amazon review. None of the Amazon reviews (at time of writing this review) state whether they were written in order to enter the giveaway so there may be a lack of transparency in some of them. I accept that my blog is part of the word-of-mouth marketplace that the world of reviews has become now that we rely perhaps less on professional reviewers as our source of recommendations, but given this and this and the concomitant debate, I am committed to being transparent when it comes to my own reviews and the process by which a book finds a place on Playing by the book.

    17 Responses

      • Zoe

        Hello Mrs Brown
        For me this book tells a bigger story than that in the text – about the wonder of nature, and what’s happening to it. I think Morris’s text is beautiful – but it is a (to my mind) single poem, rather than a story with beginning middle and end.

    1. ReadItDaddy

      Oh how we love cat books. Never get fed up with them, and really love the books where you’re given an insight into what we imagine cats are sneaking off to do.

      We’ve already chatted about the sublime “When Martha’s Away” by Bruce Ingham, and “Six Dinner Sid” by Inga Moore being two great books where the cats are clearly the superior characters. I also love both Charlotte Voake and Viviane Schwarz’s different approaches to our moggy friends (Charlotte’s “Ginger and the Mystery Visitor” is on our blog this week)

      Brilliant subject though! We love our moggies!
      ReadItDaddy recently posted..What’s that coming over the hill? New books from the monstrously brilliant Maverick Books in 2013

    2. Zoe

      Hi ReadItDaddy,

      Yes, my disclosure statement should probably also have included the admission that I am a Cat Person and not a Dog Person! Yes, both Voakes and Schwarz do lovely cat books – off to read your blog now about Ginger…
      Zoe recently posted..What do cats dream of?

    3. Library Mice

      I agree with Mrs Brown, soemtimes it is worth putting one’s own taste aside :0)
      I also agree that the artwork “makes” the book here, particularly in the way it presents endangered habitats.
      But in the end I remain 1000% a dog person ;0)
      Library Mice recently posted..Utterly Me, Clarice Bean

    4. Sam

      Ooh, what a beautiful book! I think we will have to add this to our wishlist, having three moggies of our own. I do love paintings in books too – there’s something quite entrancing about them that digital artwork doesn’t quite achieve (for me anyway). Agree with your suggestions of other cat books too. Haven’t heard about the Diabolical Mr Tiddles so it’s another one on our list! Thanks!
      Sam recently posted..Two cracking adventures from Enid Blyton

    5. jackie

      Sorry, just read right to the end of the post now. I was so pleased to read the review you had written inn the light of some of the reviews I have had recently, and also after traveling far and wide signing books in bookshops and being frankly quite disappointed by the stock that they had instore. Anyway, I hope you aren’t offended by me wanting to send you some cards to say thanks! It was genuinely meant as a gesture of thanks.
      I too am sent books to review. I review the ones I like.
      I do lots of giveaways on my facebook page. This one is meant to stimulate a bit of action on a very dormant Amazon page. You note, I don’t specify that the review has to be a ‘good review’.
      I’m not a fan of Amazon. I love books. Maybe it was a mistake to offer a fragment torn from a painting as a ‘prize’. I have only recently learned of all the dirty tricks campaigns that are happening on Amazon. Nasty they are. But I am pleased that I did this as it has brought forward some lovely reviews and some that have made me look at the book in a new light.
      It’s hard to know what to do for the best these days. I work so hard on the books, and it is so discouraging after 20 years to still struggle to find them in bookshops.
      So, thanks again for making this one a little more visible, and for taking the time to really understand it.
      jackie recently posted..Who knows where the time goes: Chapter 1, early work.

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