This review is available from the Books for Keeps website
Thank you to Books for Keeps for permission to reproduce their review.
Most cat owners will instantly recognise Puss Jekyll and her nocturnal counterpart, Cat Hyde. The cat on the cover of this elegantly presented volume, looks out, enigmatically: which one is she? And the self-contained feline on the title page suggests that like most cats, it is she, not any human, who decides who and what she shall be. She’s black and white, two aspects of the same cat personality: in the daytime ‘Sleek, sweet Pusskins, so meek and mild’ and then, after sun down, ‘War torn, love worn, battered and tattered … so wicked and wild’.
Barton, on generous double-spreads, splendidly captures the dual aspects of this cat as she rolls over to play or stalks through the darkness, prowling, hunting, ready for the kill. Her palette is muted, allowing Pusscat Jekyll/Hyde to stand out on each page, and her grainy, crayony textured surfaces give substance to the cat and her backgrounds. This is matched by Dunbar’s descriptive word sequences, making this a lovely book for a child to look at alone, or even better, to share with a complicit cat-admiring adult.
Are things always as they seem?
As well as philosophical questions raised, such as those above, this wonderful picture book provides a wealth of ideas for teaching English language and with reference to the classic story of Jekyll and Hyde. Some of the vocabulary in the story may be unfamiliar to children so the teacher could make a list of unfamiliar words on the whiteboard and, using a dictionary or thesaurus, demonstrate how to look up words to find out their meanings. Children can then become ‘word detectives’ and make their own list of unfamiliar words and meanings. This works best in pairs and may be completed using online dictionaries and thesauri.
Making lists of rhyming words and comparing spellings also helps with phonic knowledge. Some words may have similar spellings while others will sound similar but have different endings. Looking at this helps children to develop their awareness of how the different letter combinations work.
Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore
Sid the cat is not what he appears to be. When he develops a cough and is taken to the vet it becomes obvious that he has more than one owner and is known by several different names.
Gobbolino, The Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams
Gobbolino is a witch’s cat who would rather be a kitchen cat. This story was published in the 1940s but still has appeal for children today.
Are pets really our friends?
Some animals appear to be friends to humans and dogs, in particular, are trained to be guide dogs or hearing dogs for people with disabilities. The Guide Dog Association have published Archie the Guide Dog Puppy: Hero in Training (Samantha Hay) which gives some insight into how dogs help humans. This may lead to discussion on how to look after pets. There are numerous non- fiction books on choosing a pet and looking after that pet such as those published by the RSPCA and Dorling Kindersley.
Can we control animals?
The wildness of Cat Hyde in the story illustrates how the natural side of the animal has to have some outlet. This question could lead to discussion about zoos and their place today. Many zoos are places of conservation where animals are looked after in an environment which is restricted. This is a type of control. Anthony Browne’s Zoo is a superb example of a picture book which raises awareness of how these animals are controlled.
Text connections: Classic stories featuring cats
Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault
Some children may be familiar with this story and there are several versions for comparison. Telling the story orally before reading the story aloud also provides further comparisons and encourages active listening.
The Tale of Tom Kitten by Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter books still appeal to young children and this tale of a naughty kitten will raise many smiles in the classroom.
Mog (series) by Judith Kerr
The Mog books,, featuring a rather silly cat are popular with parents and children. Through these stories Judith Kerr provides laughter but also addresses bigger issues, such as death, in a safe and manageable format.
The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear
Another classic tale told in verse this is an essential read in any infant classroom.
Old Possum’s Book of Cats by T S Eliot (illustrated by Axel Scheffler)
Beautifully illustrated by Scheffler this book brings the characters in T S Eliot’s verse to life.
The Tiger Child: A Folk Tale from India by Joanna Troughton
A story about how the tiger became a cat. This is a wonderful story for oral storytelling as well as reading aloud to the class.
Fat Cat by Jack Kent
This is a Danish folktale about a cat that can’t stop eating. It lists all she eats and is a funny and enjoyable read.