Naming cats and other dilemmas

posted in: Ella Bailey, Simon Philip | 1

Here’s a true story.

Up until my recent involvement in trying to save our local library, the most serious politicking and persuading people to vote I’d ever done was when I was a kid and we got a new cat.

How does getting a new cat involve intense political negotiations, outright hard-nosed lobbying and becoming experts in different voting procedures? Well, when your family can’t decide on a name for the new cat, but does believe in democracy and everyone being able to play a role in making decisions, THAT’s how.

Everyone wanted a different name for our new cat. None of us liked the suggestions others were coming up with. Hours (if not days) were spent in discussion, shortlisting names and trying to persuade each other that our own choice of name was the one to go for. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears were spilt, we FINALLY all agreed on a name:

Queenie.

Perhaps not the most original, but we had form: our previous cats had been called Mummy Tat (a mummy cat), Black Tat (a black cat), Titty (alas, not a homage to our favourite Arthur Ransome heroine, but simply how as a little child I pronounced kitty), Kitty (a much later cat, by which time I could pronounce my ‘k’s), and in an ever so slightly radical take on cat-naming, Tommy (a boy cat).

Yes, our family has an issue with naming cats.

So when we heard about I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat written by Simon Philip (@siphilipstories), illustrated by Ella Bailey (@Ellastration) you can imagine how just the very title spoke volumes to us.

This is the tale of one young girl and her new cat. You might have thought it would be easy to find the right name for her new pet, but try as she might, it proves a considerable challenge. To find out how a trip to the zoo and the befriending of a gorilla named Steve help solve the situation, you’ll need to find yourself a copy of this very funny, very charming picture book.

Simon Philip has taken a terrific scenario – recognisable to many young listeners (and probably all parents, if you swap cats for babies), and shown how a child with determination, imagination and a sense of adventure can solve even the most difficult of problems (albeit with a little bit of good fortune). As the plot cleverly develops, you’ll find yourself turning the pages back to find the visual clues left along the way.

Ella Bailey’s delightful illustrations, packed with so much to spot (including plenty of puns for adult readers) use a fresh and soft spring-like palette, a gentle and effective counterbalance to the sense of mischief and mayhem on the pages.

A tremendously enjoyable read, with so many opportunities for chatting about what you find in the book and the decisions you’d make, I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat is paw-sitively purr-fect.

Taking our inspiration from Ella Bailey’s gorgeous cats, we set about creating some cat bunting.

We got a very long strip of paper (taken from a roll of wallpaper backing), folded it concertina style, then drew on a cat head shape, making sure the edges of the cat’s head went right up to the folded edges of the paper. Just like when making paper doll bunting, we cut out our shape and unfolded our concertina to create the basic bunting.

The girls painted the bunting using regular poster paint with a little bit of PVA glue mixed in. We did this so that whiskers (short lengths of wool), and eyes (lozenged shaped pieces of paper) could be stuck straight on to the cats, without waiting for the paint to dry.

The cat bunting now happily adorns one of the bookcases in the girls’ bedroom! We’re working on names for every single cat that has taken up residence by their books; fortunately I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat has been tremendously helpful in providing ideas!

Whilst making our cat bunting we listened to:

  • Walking My Cat Named Dog by They Might Be Giants (which could go nicely with My Dog’s Name is Cat by Barry Louis Polisar
  • The Naming of Cats by TS Eliot, as performed in the film of the Cats! musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (you can read the original poem here)
  • And if you want something a bit more way out there, try Cat Names by performance artist Joseph Keckler


  • Other activities which would go well with reading I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat include:

  • Creating your own moustache disguise. I can’t reveal why this links to the story – you’ll have to read it yourself. But when you’ve enjoyed I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat and want your own moustache disguise, these printables from the DIY Network, or this pinterest board dedicated to moustache templates might be just the ticket
  • Making a kitchen drum kit. In I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat the young girl who is having problems naming her cat can be seen having great fun with a home-made orchestra, featuring pots and pans spoons and fish slices. Why not empty out your saucepan draw/cupboard and have some fun making music together? (Here’s how we did it at Playing by the book Towers SEVEN years ago!!)
  • Reading a personal favourite of ours when it comes to picture books about pets: Thank you for Looking After Our Pets by Tim Hopgood

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    Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the book’s publisher, Simon and Schuster.

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