Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

That Cat who came in off the Roof by Annie M. G. Schmidt

Posted on | June 29, 2014 | 5 Comments

Mr Tibbles – a shy reporter on the local newspaper – has been threatened with the sack. It’s perhaps no surprise: Mr Tibbles is mad about cats, and all his stories end up revolving around felines one way or another. What his editor wants, however, is news!

Photo: Sarah

Photo: Sarah

An act of kindness brings Mr Tibbles into contact with Minoe, a rather strange young woman who appears to be able to talk to cats. Through the town’s network of feline pets and strays Minoe starts starts to deliver interesting titbits of exclusive news to Mr Tibbles; cats across the city overhear all sorts of conversations often revealing juicy gossip and insider information, and when Minoe learns of these pieces of news from kitty comrades, she passes them on to her friend the reporter.

Mr Tibble’s job is looking up until he uncovers information which could lead to the downfall of a local powerful businessman. Will the reporter be brave enough to expose the evil goings on? Will he be believed, when his only witnesses are pussy cats?

Copy_of_Cover_Cat_who_came_in_off_the_RoofA funny and yet quietly profound tale of courage, friendship and what it really means to be human, The Cat Who Came in off the Roof, by Annie M. G. Schmidt, translated by David Colmer is a gem of a story. Ideal for fans of The Hundred and One Dalmatians, or cross-species tales of identity such as Stellaluna or Croc and Bird, this book would make an especially good class read-aloud, with lots of opportunities to discuss what life looks like from different perspectives, helping readers and listeners walk in another’s shoes, as well as perhaps learning a thing or to about overcoming shyness, and how to stand up for what you believe in.

From the mangy, feisty stray cat who you end up rooting for, to the hilarious school cat with a penchant for history lessons and a slight;y different (some might say out-dated) understanding of the term ‘news’, Schmidt has populated her story with a super array of characters. The narrative beautifully unfolds with unseen and fine tuning, climaxing with an exciting and rich ending which is deeply satisfying even though not everything is tied up neatly and not all strands end happily. Despite plenty of kittens and purring, this book never patronises its readership.

Knowing the original Dutch language version as we do as a family, I can also comment on the gorgeous translation. Colmer has wittily and cleverly translated linguistic and cultural jokes. His phrase ‘miaow-wow’ for when the cats meet up for a big parley is genius and has now entered our family parlance. If I nitpick I might personally have chosen -thorpe rather than -thorn for the Dutch -doorn, when translating the town’s name but I feel mean mentioning this as Colmer’s voice is pitch-perfect; at no point will you notice the text as a translation for it reads authentically and smoothly.

This must-read book will make you laugh out loud (whether you are a dog person or a cat fan). It will make you feel like for a brief moment you’ve witnessed and understood the best of humanity. It may also make you rather nervous next time you find a cat sitting ever so quietly next to you whilst you are having a private conversation!

I do so hope Pushkin Press are now thinking about translating Schmidt’s earlier work, Ibbeltje, which shares many characteristics with The Cat Who Came in off the Roof and has the added advantage of brilliant illustrations by another glittering star in the Dutch children’s literature firmament: Fiep Westendorp.

For reasons which will become clear upon reading this charming and magical book Minoe not only can speak the language of cats, she is also known to climb trees when dogs approach. It took about a nanosecond for M to decide she wanted to play-by-this-particular-book by climbing as many different trees as she could one afternoon at the weekend. So, armed with a local map (printed from http://www.openstreetmap.org/) we set off to map all the local trees good for climbing in.

tree1

Each tree we climbed we identified (it seems that around us oaks, ash and willow are the best climbing trees).

tree2

We remembered the last time we deliberately climbed trees in order to read on location.

tree3

Getting out and climbing a tree? Reading a truly terrific book? What more could you ask for as a lovely way to while a way a few hours!

Whilst climbing we weren’t listening to music, but these tracks could go with reading The Cat Who Came in off the Roof:

  • This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof by Brian Setzer
  • Everybody Wants to be a Cat from The Aristocats film
  • The Cat theme from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf


  • Other activities which you might be inspired to try alongside reading The Cat Who Came in off the Roof include:

  • Reading more books in more trees. The very first I’d have to recommend are the Toby books by Timothee de Fombelle, about an entire world of miniature people having giant adventures in an oak tree.
  • Walking around your neighbourhood and greeting the cats you come across. Could you create a backstory for each one? What are they called? What do they get up to when you’re not there?
  • Writing a family newspaper. This is potentially a super project for the summer holidays – and you can get some great tips and downloadables to get you going from this post over on Playful Learning.

  • When did you last climb a tree? What secrets might your cat be able to tell me ;-) ?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Cat who Came in off the Roof from the publisher.

    And briefly…. thank you with all my heart to all of you who commented on my last post, or got in touch via email, phone, snail mail and more. Life goes on and plots are being hatched and plans being laid. As and when I can reveal more I’ll be sure to let you know the latest.

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    Comments

    5 Responses to “That Cat who came in off the Roof by Annie M. G. Schmidt”

    1. Anne Booth
      June 29th, 2014 @ 10:29 pm

      Lovely post and that book sounds enchanting. I wish I had thought of that story! I am also v glad to read that plots are being hatched and plans being laid bout your future. I am positive something exciting will happen for you – you are eminently qualified to do something great in children’s books. And, as someone commented, you might think of writing one yourself too? Good Luck Zoe!

    2. SIMONE FRASER
      June 30th, 2014 @ 1:04 am

      Great to see you back, Zoe!

    3. Jennifer
      June 30th, 2014 @ 2:18 am

      I didn’t know it was a book! I was so pleased to get the movie, Miss Minoes, for my library when it came out in the US and for myself as well – it’s adorable!
      Jennifer recently posted..RA RA READ: Middle Grade Mysteries

    4. Zoe
      June 30th, 2014 @ 9:20 am

      Anne – I think you would really enjoy this book – it’s got a big heart.

      Thanks Simone – it’s good to be back.

      Jennifer – I haven’t seen the film, but I see it gets reasonable reviews. It doesn’t seem to be available in European DVD format though :( I’ll keep searching!
      Zoe recently posted..That Cat who came in off the Roof by Annie M. G. Schmidt

    5. Catherine
      June 30th, 2014 @ 9:38 am

      You can’t beat an afternoon climbing trees :)

      I love the sound of this story Zoe, thanks for another great review.
      Catherine recently posted..The Mummy Shop by Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard

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