A Tuesday Ten: Feline Fantastic
Cats . . . they pop up in fantasy books almost as often as magic wands and enchanted cloaks. They are the familiars of witches, the companions of warriors and the unexpected chaos that sets things spinning. They pop up in science fiction too. As ship cats, interstellar explorers and sometimes as aliens themselves! This list is going to look at books where cats are one of the central characters to the story. Now that’s not to dismiss Crookshanks, or the Cheshire Cat, or purple eyed Faithful. They may be the subject of a future list.
Into the Wild by Erin Hunter (Avon, 2003)
I admit I debated including this series as I’m not a real fan of the series. Still, you mention cats and fantasy to a middle grade reader and they’re likely to think of this series immediately. Erin Hunter is a pseudonym of four people: Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, Gillian Philip, and Tui Sutherland. These stories of wild cat clans opens with young Rusty who leaves behind domesticated life to enter into the world of cat warriors. Full of high fantasy posturing and drama, these books seem to have a love/hate relationship with readers. Nevertheless the full Warriors series including all the various spin-offs and extra books takes up quite a bit of space of the bookshelves!
Claws by Mike and Rachel Grinti (Chickenhouse, 2012)
In this alternate history urban fantasy we have a young heroine Emma, who is desperate to find her missing sister. Enter the smooth talking, rag-tag black cat Jack. Our clever cat is willing to help Emma find her sister, all he wants in return is one small favor. . . As one might expect Jack’s “favor” brings quite a bit of trouble and magic into Emma’s life! Urban fantasy for middle school readers is still relatively unusual, particularly when that magic is part of the contemporary world rather than hidden from most people. This is a debut story from this writing duo, I’ll be curious to see where they’ll go from here.
Catwings by Ursula LeGuin, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Scholastic, 1988)
I think it a safe bet that most people hear the name Ursula LeGuin and think of her Wizard of Earthsea books or her adult science fiction works. A whimsical young reader fantasy series about a family of winged cats probably wasn’t on the top of the list. I admit when I went back to this beloved childhood series, I did a double take on the name. Surprising or no, LeGuin did indeed pen a series of charming stories about kittens with wings for young readers. In the first book of the series, these kittens escape the crowding of the city, thinking country life will be easier. Followed by Catwings Return (1989), Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings (1994), and Jane on her Own (1999).
Tomorrow’s Sphinx by Clare Bell (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1986)
Still one of my fond favorites. A blend of science fiction and fantasy, part time travel, part futuristic it’s the story that got me enchanted with cats again. Kichebo is a young cub who is a rare black cheetah sometime in a future world setting where big cats share a telepathic link with one another. Kichebo is rejected by her kind, but befriends a strange two legged creature and makes an incredible link with a far past cheetah who lived in the time of King Tut. Powerful storytelling from an author who clearly loves to write about cats. Clare Bell also wrote Ratha’s Creature (1983) the first book in a series about sentient big cats. While The Named series is a bit more young adult in tone I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it here. While it’s not unusual to have cat societies, usually they are of the domestic cat variety. Having big cat societies with no human characters in the mix is something else again.
Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander (Puffin, c1963)
The oldest published entry on this list, I really couldn’t leave off Alexander’s time-traveling feline, now could I? Our gifted kitty takes young Jason on a series of nine time traveling adventures. Gareth the cat takes his companion through some exciting times in history! From the witch hunts to ancient Egypt, readers get a little dose of historical events and whole lot of adventure. While this story may be a tad dated, it still is a regular title on the shelves.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, 2001)
What started as a small joke in one of the early Discworld books (I forget which one, though I believe it was a Rincewind title) turned into on of Terry Pratchett’s books for young readers. An accident of magical leakage has gifted Maurice the cat with intelligence and speech, and this furry feline aims to take full advantage of his gifts. First, he befriends the intelligent talking rats (likewise affected by magical leakage), then he finds a boy who can play the flute . . . This twist on the Pied Piper tale, is told with Pratchett’s usual thoughtfulness, humor and poignant observations. While it’s technically set in the Discworld universe, the book is also a fine stand alone read.
Varjak Paw by S.F. Said, Illustrated by Dave McKean (Yearling, 2003)
Varjak Paw is a Mesopotamian Blue cat, and has been a sheltered house cat for his entire life so far. But this young cat yearns to explore the Outside . . . and soon gets his wish. Danger, adventure, mystery and fantasy combine to make this a satisfying coming-of-age cat story. Varjak goes on a hero’s journey to live of up to his ancestor’s reputation, and discovers his own bravery and skill. Dave McKean’s stunning illustrations fit well with the dramatic story. Varjak’s story continues in the sequel: The Outlaw Varjack Paw (2005).
Star Ka’at by Andre Norton, illustrated by Dorothy Madlee (Walker and Company, 1976)
Remember I mentioned cats as aliens? Star Ka’at takes on just that premise. In the story, our spacefaring Ka’ats have come to Earth to rescue long exiled cat-kin before the Earth is destroyed. In the process, the Ka’ats also decide to rescue two human children, whom they take with them back to their homeworld. A science fiction series for young readers that’s hard to find in print, but I think belongs on this list. Other titles in the series include: Star Ka’at World (1976), Star Ka’ats and the Plant People (1979), and Star Ka’ats and the Winged Warriors (1981).
The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Yearling, c1972)
My Newbery Honor book for the list! And the one read that reaches more into the horror genre . . . Jessica doesn’t know exactly why she brings the ugly kitten home (she doesn’t particularly like cats). She names the kitten Worm, and slowly comes to believe that Worm is possessed by an evil that is influencing her to do evil things in turn. A creepy little book that toes the line between fantasy and reality, I remember being unable to sleep the night I first read it!
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles De Lint, Illustrated by Charles Vess (Little, Brown Books, 2013)
Adult urban fantasy author Charles De Lint pens this tale of a young girl who has always yearned to find magic in Tanglewood forest. When she nearly dies, the cats of Tanglewood decide to save her life . . . by transforming her into a kitten. Learning how to be a cat will be challenge enough, but can Lillian figure out how to become human again? Brought to life by Charles Vess’ vivid illustrations, this is a charming fantasy tale for all cat lovers.
Now I know there are armfuls of other great fantasy and science fiction featuring cats out there! Please comment and share your favorites!
Posted on September 25, 2013, in General Posts, Lists and tagged Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, fantasy, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Reading, reviews, Science Fiction, series, Urban Fantasy. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.