I admit it; I have a soft spot for cats; big and small; wild and domestic. This week’s blog posts are dedicated to these furry fireballs. Today I am reviewing the first three, in a series of four, written by some of my favourite children’s books authors. Julie Andrews Edwards wrote Little Bo and Little Bo in France, alone, and was joined by her daughter and co-author of many stories, Emma Walton Hamilton, for the third in the series, Little Bo in Italy. The fourth book, Little Bo in London, is due out, I believe, later this year –I can’t wait. I am sneakily including these as # 34-36 in the Read to Me Picture Book Challenge, but really, though the physical size of picture books, they are chapter books, that will be read by and to children of 7-11. (again and again). The books are around 100 pages long so require a decent attention span from a listener, but the stories are so endearing, that one is hooked in with ease.
Little Bo by Julie Andrews Edwards, illustrated by Henry Cole.
Our story begins with a champion Persian giving birth to six kittens, which are clearly not purebred. The mother, Sarabande, comes up with names for the first five, but leaves the runt to be named by their alley-cat father; thus Boadicea, or Little Bo, is christened. Crisis strikes early in the plot when Sarabande’s mistress orders the butler to dispose of the kittens at the pet shop. Discovering that the pet shop is unwilling to take any of the kittens, the reader is confronted with all their lives immediately put in jeopardy. The six siblings realize the only hope is to run in different directions and thus Little Bo finds herself losing her family and fearfully lost on a snowy winter’s night. The story is full of adventure and friendship. Bo’s first bit of luck is encountering a young, gentle, first mate, Billy, with whom she immediately creates a strong bond. Billie, not knowing the kitten’s real name, calls her Bonnie, or Bo for short. The pair set off for a sea adventure with Bo as a stowaway, dealing with several hazards along the way. The cadence of Julie’s penmanship gives a lilting and gentle feel to the text, making Little Bo a joy to read aloud. Henry Cole’s, jaunty, coloured illustrations of animals and humans, are on nearly every page, also adding to the readability of the book. There is a charming old worldliness to the text and illustrations where the good characters are good, and the bad, wonderfully rotten.
Little Bo in France by Julie Andrews Edwards, Illustrated by Henry Cole.
We pick up the story still on the east coast of England, but with Billie and Bo’s plans to cross the Channel and head to Paris. I really appreciate the map in the front of the book, plotting the route from Dover to Paris and then down through Lyon and Avignon and along the Mediterranean to the Côte d’Azur. You can imagine that one of my pleasures from this book and Little Bo in Italy, is that they are describing and illustrating places I know so well. Not only do we have great story in these three books, but also Julie and Emma offer some delightful travel detail to the young reader, of two of my favourite European nations. While text and illustration focus on the stereotypical characteristics of France (and Italy) this only adds to the universal charm. One wants to see the Eiffel Tower and the artists of Montmartre and enjoy the Parisian gastronomy and the dry heat of Provence. The text is also peppered with simple, French vocabulary, explained in a glossary at the back. What Bo will remember most from Paris, is being reunited with her brother, Tubs, who is doing fine for himself as a chef’s cat! After some fun in the capital, Billie and Bo head down the Rhône valley on a barge and meet up with a pretty French girl and a roguish French cat, called Panache (I will return to names). Never far from danger and adventure, our dynamic duo manage to save Lady Goodlad from a terrible fate and Sir Barnaby offers Billie employment in recompense, on the wonderful Riviera yacht, the Legend.
Little Bo in Italy by Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton, illustrated by Henry Cole.
Many things impressed me with the third in this series. Firstly, I was surprised how there is no change of voice whatsoever despite the co-authorship. We rediscover Bo and Billie as they sail down the coast from Cannes to visit Florence and Pisa. I feel Henry Cole really excels himself in this book. The illustrations are not only beautiful but also brimming with accurate detail. Anyone who has driven, or sailed, along the Liguria coastline from the French border down towards Livorno, will recognize the Genoan towers, tunnels and bridges as seen on page 2O. The sunset over Rome’s Coliseum is stunning. In this book Billie fulfils some of his desire to see more of the world in some of the most beautiful cities in Italy, and little Bo manages to be reunited with, and reassured about, more of her siblings. Once again we enter a mini travelogue, with details about famous sites like the Tower of Pisa and the famous Piazze of Rome. French and Italian phrases are cunningly introduced and integrated into the context in a way that children will be able to stretch themselves in their interpretation skills. While there is more intrigue at the British Embassy, my favourite scene has to be the fight with the Colosseum cats (The feral cats of Rome’s Colosseum are world famous). Lyrical language and word choice are part of the beauty of this series. One evidence of this is the choice of names. Firstly, of course, our Little Bo may be of diminutive size but not of nature; she fully lives up to her full name as a bold, female warrior. Panache, Bo’s friend, also has all the charisma his name suggests. Then the Coliseum cats have such awesome names: Titus, Flavius, Magnus and Hephzibah. Finally, Beth’s favourite, Ian Fraser, ship’s captain or musical director?
I highly recommend this series for both children (especially cat-lovers) and adults alike. It embodies the three values of the Julie Andrews Collection: Words, Wisdom and Wonder.