Posted by: Lizzie Ross | March 30, 2010

Not your typical book about cats

Whittington, Alan Armstrong (2005), Random House, 185 pp.

This is a strange combination–part historical fiction, part talking animals (à la Charlotte’s Web, including the farmyard setting), part embedded story, part kid-overcomes-reading-disability (this last is quickly becoming a literary trope!).

Can I summarize the plot briefly? Whittington is a descendant of Dick Whittington’s cat–the one that helped the 14th century orphaned peasant become wealthy and thrice Lord Mayor of London, as the old tale goes. The modern cat tells Dick Whittington’s story to an audience of farm animals and two children (one has dyslexia), in chapters leaved between episodes about the farm animals’ trials and tribulations, joys and …

It’s starting to sound soppy, which this book manages not to be. I’ve always loved the story of Dick Whittington, and Armstrong here has included details about medieval life that make Whittington’s world come alive. Meanwhile, the dyslexic child learns to read, the farm animals thrive, even the rats have a happy ending.

My favorite line? A comment about an ugly, preening duck: “Nothing so improves the appearance as a good opinion of oneself.” That is gospel truth!


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