A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
JUNE 28:

  • Happy birthday Bette Greene (Summer of my German Soldier) and Dennis Haseley (A Story for Bear).
  • It’s the birth date of Esther Forbes (1891-1967), Johnny Tremain.
  • In 1973, a lawsuit in Detroit challenges the “no girls” rule in Little League. Read Catching the Moon: the Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dreams by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Randy DuBurke, Mama Played Baseball by David A. Adler, illustrations by Chris O’Leary, and The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane.
  • It’s Paul Bunyan Day. Read Paul Bunyan by Steven Kellogg and Paul Bunyan: My Story by David L. Harrison, illustrated by John Kanzler.

In the 1930s, an author who called himself “Old Possum” sent his godchildren (Tom Faber, Alison Tandy, Susan Wolcott, and Susanne Morley) a series of poems about cats. Playful, irreverent, and brilliantly written, these fourteen poems (a fifteenth “Cat Morgan Introduces Himself” appeared in 1952) were published in England by Faber and Faber in September of 1939. Fortunately, the author was not your average godparent, but the great modern writer T. S. Eliot. We are celebrating Adopt a Shelter Cat Month in June; no volume has ever made me want to own a cat, possibly even several cats, more than Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Children ages four and up respond to the cadence and the language, bubbling over with fantasy and fun, long before they can even understand the meaning of the words. Therefore Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is ideal for a parent, librarian, or teacher to read aloud; the poems provide equal enjoyment for all listeners. These cats all have distinct personalities; the poems celebrating them introduce readers and listeners to one individual, idiosyncratic cat after another.

The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat;
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat.
If you put him in a flat then he’d rather have a house.

Or:

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair;
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

In 1982 Harcourt made an edition available with illustrations by Edward Gorey. A signed volume by Gorey always sits near me when I write. No one can make cats more droll or more sinister than he does. As maniacal as these cats look, the humans seem a good deal more bizarre.

The inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical Cats, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats can be savored again and again—for its language and charm. If you have a favorite cat or stanza, please weigh in today. I can never chose which creature from this book I enjoy the most. I do know that hours of reading pleasure can be found, for both adults and children, in this slim volume of fifty-six pages, one of the finest volumes of poetry ever written for young people.

Here’s a page from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats:

You ought to know Mr. Mistoffelees!
The Original Conjuring Cat–
(There can be no doubt about that).
Please listen to me and don’t scoff. All his
Inventions are off his own bat.
There’s no such Cat in the metropolis;
He holds all the patent monopolies
For performing surprising illusions
And creating eccentric confusions
At prestidigitation
And at legerdemain
He’ll defy examination
And deceive you again.
The greatest magicians have something to learn
From Mr. Mistoffelees’ Conjuring Turn.
Presto!
Away we go!
And we all say: OH!
Well I never!
Was there ever
A Cat so clever
As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

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Originally posted June 28, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Cats, Humor, Imagination
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
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COMMENTS

  1. suzi w. says:

    oh. oh. oh. I suppose this could devolve into a spree on Cats, but that is the way most of us are familiar with this tome. My last Broadway show was in 1993, to see Cats, because my sister wanted only that for her birthday. And though I had never had any interest to see Cats, I too was brought into the magic. I remember in my bookselling years people asking for this book, knowing or not knowing that it was the “Cats” book. I. Adore. The. Gorey. Illustrations. He is one of the finest.

    And I cannot wait for tomorrow, June 29th is one of my favorites. The illustrations…

  2. G.Perry says:

    I immediately recognize the cover of this book as I have come across it a number of times in the past, but I don’t believe I’ve read it. I will read it now though.

    My awareness of T. S. Elliot’s work is powerfully related to his poetry in Little Gidding (No. 4 of ‘Four Quartets’)

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time…

    There is a searching and a beauty-haunting, in that poem, which resonates profoundly inside my own early days. Elliot seems to have some kind of knowing of how to light up unremembered grief, and once his work lands inside you, it can perform an almost neuro-genesis of a kind.

    For Elliot to be able to write with such humor in this book about cats, and be able to leave you thunderstruck with awe from his serious work as well, means he’s a very special author indeed.

  3. Sarah T says:

    When I was in grade school, my friend and I used to sit on her porch swing and read poems from this book to each other. Great choice Anita!

  4. My favorites would have to be Mongojerrie and Rumpleteazer – a “notorious” pair. (My daughter and I had fun saying their names. We’d prounounce them with a ‘Liza Doolittle Cockney accent!)

    Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a wonderful way of working
    together.
    And when you heard a dining-room smash
    Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
    Or down from the library came a loud ping
    From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming–
    Then the family would say: “Now which was which cat?
    It was Mungojerrie! AND Rumpelteazer!”– And there’s nothing
    at all to be done about that!

  5. Michelle M. says:

    Very interesting! I did not know that this book was the inspiration for the musical Cats!

  6. Karen Smith says:

    Ten years ago, we adopted two kittens. We named one of them Bustopher, after Bustopher Jones, the cat about town. It turned out that the other cat has the right personality for that name. Our Bustopher is meek and mild, unlike T.S. Eliot’s Bustopher Jones character. Oh well, as Eliot says so eloquently:
    “The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
    It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
    You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
    When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.”

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