Flashback of a Flashback: The Ka’ats came back . . .
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
Bringing back an older book that I was just revisiting fondly (some of these I still have to get copies of for my own kiddos)
You’re an typical earth kid who befriends what you believe is simply a remarkable cat. But then it becomes clear that your cat isn’t the usual earth cat at all–it’s an alien from far away and it’s here to try and retrieve some of the feline population before the Earth is destroyed. This Ka’at also decides it has a soft spot for a human child . . .
Do you remember:
Star Ka’at by Andre Norton , illustrated by Dorothy Madlee (Knight Books, c1976)
I still remember where these were on the shelves in my old library. I remember that the copies they had were hardcovers, and at least one of them had no dust jacket and was just a plain cover with the title. Still, anything with such an intriguing name as “Star Ka’at” had to grab my attention. I’ve always loved stories about cats, so finding a science fiction series that focused on cats as part of the story, was–to my mind–an instant win. The premise is pretty simplistic for these younger middle grade stories. Star Ka’ats are actually alien felines who have come to earth to rescue earth-bound relatives, many of whom are not aware of their interstellar heritage. It seems the earth may be facing some dire catastrophe, and these cat-centric beings wish to rescue as many of their kin as possible. In the process , the Ka’ats wind up also taking along two earth children, Jim and Ely Mae who are sort of adopted by the crew and taken with the earth cats to the Star Ka’ats home world.
The first book is followed up by Star Ka’at World which chronicles Jim and Elly Mae’s arrival on the Ka’at homeworld and their difficulty fitting in to a society where they are the only ones without fur or paws and cannot mindspeak to control the Star Ka’at robots. This leaves them dependent on the Ka’ats for much of their survival. The two decide to investigate an abandoned city that clearly once had humanoid residents. Jim and Ely Mae’s explorations put their furry caregivers in danger, but allow the two to realize they may have a role to play and talents the Ka’ats don’t have for discovering forgotten technology.
Star Ka’ats and the Winged Warriors (1976) This title I’ve never gotten ahold of, but apparently tells the story of the Ka’ats going to visit another Ka’at clan and dealing with monstrous sized critters . Star Ka’ats and the Plant People (1979) Furthers the adventures of our intrepid earth kids and their Star Ka’at friends as they explore the ruins of a former civilization on the Ka’at homeworld and encounter the mysterious Plant People. As far as I can tell, all of these titles have had illustrations throughout the story done by Dorothy Madlee. The illustrations, plus the fairly limited page count put these stories at the younger end of the middle grade spectrum.
These books are unusual in more than one way. There is, to be honest not that much science fiction that has ever been written for young readers. Other than the Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen and My Robot Buddy series by Alfred Slote there’s not a heck of a lot out there from the earlier decades. Some–mind you–but not a lot. More notably still is that Elly Mae is a black protagonist and heroine in this story. To the best of my memory, I don’t know that a lot was made of it in the story itself, but I think it notable simply because I can think of only maybe one or two other science fiction stories for this age group featuring a female protagonist who is also African American. It does have to be said that there’s some painful dialog going on at times and some stereotyping, but given the rarity of even having this kind of fiction, I still think it worth noting. Up until Mars Evacuees and Cakes in Space this year, I’m sort of hard pressed to name a middle grade fiction space SF story that contains a female POC as a main character. (If anyone thinks of a title, please let me know!)
My rather regular lament on these Flashback Friday posts is that these books are out of print and hard to come by. So you probably won’t find these on most library shelves!
I’m trusting that a lot of you already are familiar with Andre Norton, but I’ll provide a quick refresher here. Andre Norton (Born Alice Mary Norton) was a librarian before she ever got into writing and editing science fiction. Her body of work is extensive and she remains one of the best-known and one of the most prolific female science fiction authors of her generation. Norton wrote a wide range of science fiction and fantasy series for children and young adults, though I think star Ka’ats is likely her youngest audience. Most of her other work tends to be appropriate for older middle grade or teen readers.
Have any of you read these books? If you read the Winged Warriors book, is it worth looking for? Inquiring minds want your opinion!
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on October 4, 2015, in Flashback Fridays and tagged Aliens, Animals, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, kidlit, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Reading, reviews, Science Fiction, SF, Space Adventure. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.