The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat: Coral Rumble & Charlotte Cooke (Parragon Book, 2013)
I don’t say this lightly, but this is a near-perfect morsel of a picture book. It came about from conversations between Charlotte Cooke and her mother, who wrote the text, and started life as a university project.
There is something very special about books written and illustrated by people who know and love each other well. I have written before about books created by friends, and books created by family are even more special.
This story follows a girl and a boy who have imaginary adventures in a cardboard box boat in their living room. The girl is dressed as a cat with face-painted whiskers and cat ear headband. The boy has glasses (yay!), feathers in a band, and a cardboard beak. With inspiration drawn from Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, the story takes its own path but with some lovely tie-ins (the boat is called the Petit Pois!)
What is so absolutely special is the lack of gender stereotyping. This is a story for girls and boys regardless of interests. Any child who has pretended a cardboard box is something that it isn’t (which is any child) can appreciate the story here.
The tale speaks to children and their active imaginations. We start on the living room floor but are taken out to sea for adventures with seals, sharks, octopuses, sea orchestras, pirates… The first and last spreads show the ‘reality’ of cardboard box but the other spreads show the adventures in their own imaginative reality.
The illustrations are gorgeous. The two child characters are irresistibly cute, and the illustrations are full of tiny details that make the book a joy to read and re-read. My personal favourite is the octopus, but the swordfish fighting with a pirate is a close second!
The poor little brother doesn’t seem to come out well in many of the encounters – I think that’s true of most younger siblings being dragged on adventures by their older siblings, at least it seems to be in our house – but the love between the siblings is evident and having a boy and a girl having fun together without gender segregation is a joy to see.
There appears to be a habit with some picture books to force rhymes where they are unnecessary. Children love rhymes, appears to go the thought, therefore let’s make this rhyme. You then end up with a book written in the same boring rhythm with words that make little sense and terrible scansion. The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat, however, has a rhythm that works, introducing children to the fun of playing with words and sounds. It also ends on the perfect note, echoing the original Owl and the Pussycat inspiration.
This is a shorter than average picture book and, although I want more, it doesn’t suffer for it. Both MG and DG enjoy the story. MG (6) can easily read the text now, and DG (4) can make her own stories from the pictures. There is a lot of scope for children to make their own stories from the pictures, and to be inspired to create their own cardboard box adventures.
This book almost got lost when the original publishers, Meadowside Children’s Books, sadly ceased trading. Fortunately it didn’t and is now a shining beacon in Parragon’s list. I really can’t commend The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat highly enough. Get a copy, read it, and see for yourselves.
There are two great interviews with Charlotte Cooke at Parragon Books (including behind the scenes pictures and a lovely story behind the puffin picture) and Read It, Daddy (including fab questions from a five-year-old Charlotte).
I’d like to thank Charlotte for a copy of the book, a wonderfully illustrated envelope (my favourite creature from the book, you must be psychic), for taking the time to clear up some of my questions (any mistakes in this post are my errors), and most importantly for creating wonderful art. Thank-you
Disclosure: We were sent a copy of The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat by Charlotte Cooke for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.