The School for Cats

by Esther Averill

What a cute little book. I found it browsing the J Fic shelves (still my current level of reading concentration, most days). I almost instantly recognized the illustration style and one of the characters: we had a copy of the book about the firehouse cat when I was a kid, and he’s in this one too. But the main character is Jenny, a shy little black cat who lives with a ship’s captain. When her owner goes away to sea, Jenny is sent to a kind of boarding school for cats. It’s an odd little fantasy: the cats talk to each other and do silly things like drive toy cars, but when a kid walking by the yard asks the woman who runs the school if they really teach cats to read and do arithmetic there, she laughs and says oh no, we just teach them manners and how to get along with each other. So it’s more like a boarding kennel for cats? but with schooling mixed in. And they sleep in beds in a row. With posts made of tree branch sections to scratch their claws on. Very amusing.

Well, Jenny arrives at the school very nervous and scared of everything- the new environment, the other cats, the very idea of school. She hides under a bed and just watches what goes on at first. If the other cats behave well, they get dried catnip to roll around in as a treat before bedtime. Jenny has just gotten brave enough to venture out and sit with the other cats when she gets scared again. This time by a deliberate action: one of the other cats is Pickles (from the firehouse book!) He has a miniature-sized fire engine with a ladder that he can drive, and he zooms it around chasing the other cats and showing off. Jenny is so terrified by the fire engine she bolts up the chimney and won’t come out. She stays there all night, and when next morning finally looses her grip and falls down, she dashes out the front door and runs away. Everyone goes out looking, but they can’t find Jenny. She runs through the village to the train station, hoping to somehow get on a train back home to her Captain. While hiding there, she sees two other cats arrive on the train for the School, and admires them. Overhears some conversation that makes her start to regret running away. Maybe she would like some of the things at school after all. She certainly would like to get to know these two cats.

But then something else frightens her and she runs again, off into the nearby forest. Turns out the forest isn’t scary to Jenny at all. She feels interested in everything and confident there. She meets a fox and watches the birds. And then goes back to the school, where she is welcomed without fuss. Except that Pickles brings out his fire engine again, just to see what she will do. And she runs at him with fire blazing out of her ears, overturning the fire engine and impressing Pickles, who never bothers her with it again. In fact they become friends, and Jenny ends up enjoying her summer at the school.

I guess it’s a story about facing down a bully, who is just picking on others to amusing himself and be something of a pest. Or about this little shy cat finding ways to be brave. Really it’s rather endearing and the illustrations, though a bit awkward-looking sometimes, are quite charming. I’ve gone and requested from the library all the other books they have in this series- I never knew there were so many!

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/19/24.

Rating: 3/5
32 pages, 1947

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