Motley the Cat ReviewMotley the Cat
story by Susannah Amoore, paintings by Mary Feddon
Viking, Feb., 1998.
Picture Book, 24 pages.
Prepare to be enchanted. Motley the Cat is one of those magical blendings of splendid art and glorious writing that makes up the finest in children's literature. Motley could proudly take his place among T.S. Eliot's classic collection of cats. He is an enormous striped cat with a scarlet collar, glittering lime-green eyes and great curves of wiry whiskers springing from either side of the widest nose ever seen on a cat. Motley is looking for a home, not that he isn't having a fine cat's life right where he lives at the College of Adult Education, but rather a permanent home. Being Motley, a magical, mystical cat, he goes about finding his perfect home in a magical, mystical adventure that begins one beautiful midsummer's day. While out and about, he takes a mighty leap to the top of a brick wall surrounding the garden of the home of two little girls who just so happen to be reading in the shade of one of their trees. They are accompanied by Darius, their beloved, elderly, ink-black cat who loves to lie on his back and pat at moths. The garden seems to tilt mysteriously as the girls look up to see Motley staring down at them with his lime-green eyes. Everyone in the family is bewitched by this huge and unusual cat and brings him to their home to spend the night. Motley purrs and leaps with joy until the girls begin playing cards. His lime-green eyes turn dark, and he tenses with ferocity as he springs at the piles of slippery cards.
The next morning, the girls and their mother manage to push the unruly, wild Motley into a basket and return him to the College of Adult Education. The caretaker, thinking that Motley had finally found what he is always looking for, sternly demands why they won't keep him. He certainly doesn't want Motley around. The girls explain that they already have an elderly cat they love and simply can't keep the maniacal Motley. Little do they know that the magic has already started.
Nearly a year goes by but the girls can't forget the enormous, beautiful-ugly cat with the lime-green eyes. They hope for even a glimpse of him, but there is no tilting of the garden, no hint of magic. As the year comes to a close, Darius becomes very ill, and the vet gently takes him away. As they leave the vet with tears running down their chins, something strange begins to happen. They feel a tilting sensation as they run into their house. One of the girls points, and there is that unforgettable face with the lime-green eyes pressed to the window. They throw open the door, and Motley triumphantly and grandly enters their lives forever. Motley had waited nearly a year for the vacancy, watching and knowing everything being a magical, mystical cat with exceptional powers.
The magical, mystical powers really belong to the art of Mary Fedden and the words of Susannah Amoore. Fedden is a well-known, popular British contemporary artist. Amazingly, this is her first picture book. Her pastel watercolors are set off by the zing of a bright splash of intense color in every illustration that grabs our attention and perfectly conveys the mysterious dual nature of Motley. She captures Motley to a tee. His lime-green eyes jump off the page and seem to be watching the reader. In fact, his black and gray stripes and great curves of wiry whiskers and scarlet collar make Motley, no matter how large or small on the page become the center of attention. This vibrant, unusual use of color; the fascinating way the illustrations are laid out on the pages; the contrast of the large color pictures with the small black and white ones subtlely teaches children about art in the most entertaining fashion.
Susannah Amoore is a published poet and it shows in her exquisite use of language. She weaves this delightful story (which she says is true) with eloquence, elegance, mystery and magic. Her delicious words and phrases roll off the tongue and ignite the imagination. She knows cats, and she knows how to describe their movements with verve and poetry. For example, With bristling fur, stiffened slow-moving legs, and some impressive hissing and yowling, they take it in turns to menace and stalk each other beneath the cool-shadowed moonlight, while the river beside them flows silver and dark and fast. She handles the death of Darius soothingly so as not to upset children, and follows it quickly with the perfectly timed arrival of Motley. Amoore has such a magical way with words and uses such delectably descriptive ones that children are learning in the best of all possible ways, by being delighted.
Of course, the real point of this perfect collaboration probably was not to teach children about art or poetry, but rather to write and illustrate an excellent, well-told story with exceptional paintings. Fedden and Amoore succeed on all counts. May they continue their partnership and regale us with something as special as Motley the Cat. Cheers to all!
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