The Story of the Seagull and the Cat who taught her to fly

When faced with an apparently impossible challenge Zorba doesn’t give up, but instead calls on his friends to help, ultimately finding wings with the aid of poetry in this short but punchy, serious but very funny story about fulfilling promises, being imaginative and never losing hope.

910_largeThe Story of a Seagull and The Cat who Taught Her to Fly by Luis Sepúlveda, with illustrations by Satoshi Kitamura, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden opens with the death of a seagull. She’s been caught in an oil slick, but her last acts are to lay her egg and elicit promises from Zorba the cat that he will look after the egg and eventually teach the chick to fly.

It may be an absurd conundrum but Zorba takes his responsibilities seriously. He and his feline friends (a small but perfectly formed cast of characters all living in the port of Hamburg) resourcefully call on all their skills and knowledge, learning as much about themselves as about flight along the way, in this brief book that will make your heart flutter and smiles soar.

Kindness, compassion, thinking outside the box and being brave all characterise the team who help fulfil the seagull’s dying wish. Along with environmental damage caused by humans, how we can learn to love others who are as different from ourselves as we can possibly imagine, and working out when its ok to break all the rules in order to do the right thing, Sepúlveda’s story is rich and quietly profound. And yet these meaty themes are never explored in a heavy handed manner. Rather, this book is full of giggles and delight and a truly memorable cast and setting. There’s Einstein, a cat who loves to read encyclopedias, Matthew, a beer drinking monkey, and a fantastical private collection of wonders and weird objects from around the world, Harry’s Port Bazaar.

Peden’s translation is graceful and warm and Kitamura’s cameo illustrations are pitch-perfectly quirky (Kitamura and cats go exceptionally well together). All in all this is one of those books that when you’ve read it, you wonder how on earth you go so far along in your life without having read it before (it was first published, in Spanish, 20 years ago). I can only urge you to do the children you know a massive favour and share this with them as soon as you can. Then they’ll have a whole lifetime to delight in this joyous and uplifting book.

A truly memorable location, Harry’s Port Bazaar resonated with us so much we had to recreate it in our home, and what fun we had getting out all our favourite oddities and treasures. Alas we didn’t have any hammocks or anchors, but see if you can spot Harry’s cannons, giraffes, the polar bear with the hand of an explorer in its stomach, an Eiffel Tower, a hat with a floppy brim, his elephants (slightly shrunk) and some of the typewriters…

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Oops! We caught Matthew having one of his beers!

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Can you see Einstein reading to Lucky from his beloved encyclopedia?

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Quite a few of the port cats joined us in the Bazaar and so the afternoon was then spent listening to their wild and exciting stories…

Whilst we filled our bazaar with treasures and listened to terrific tales told by the port cats who came to visit we had this music on in the background:

  • The music for the end titles of the animated version of The Story of a Seagull and The Cat who Taught Her to Fly
  • Seagull by Recess Monkey
  • Trash is My Treasure by Hullabaloo, all about seagulls’ eating habits!
  • R Kelly’s I believe I can fly (I had to include this, really!)
  • And possibly my favourite song about flight: I’ll fly away, sung here by Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss


  • Other activities which might work well alongside reading The Story of a Seagull and The Cat who Taught Her to Fly include:

  • Making mini seagulls out of airdrying or polymer clay, or even out of pebbles!
  • Reading some more of Bernardo Atxaga’s poetry or his short story for children, The Adventures of Shola. Atxaga’s poetry plays a wonderful role in The Story of a Seagull and The Cat who Taught Her to Fly
  • Finding out about the work of Greenpeace

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    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher, Alma Books.

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