a Frenzy of Felines

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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.


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12 Responses to a Frenzy of Felines

  1. Diane says:

    Another lovely post Joanna, and of three of my favourite books, from non other than my favourite authors. (I have briefly met Julie Andrews twice and Emma once, and it is thanks to Julie, in a way, that I started writing at all).
    I have all three books and I must admit, in “Little Bo in Italy” the colours are more richer than in the previous two books. The Leaning Tower on page 21, the lovely Piazza Navona square spread out on pages 66 and 67, and the Colosseum on page 70 bring back lovely memories of my visits there, for me. I indeed love the travel aspect of this series and yes I am a huge cat lover. I loved the part where Little Bo is found in the picnic basket (that’s something my cat would have done)

    • Joanna says:

      How wonderful to have been able to meet these two authors, Diane 🙂 I too can find myself once again, sitting on the Spanish Steps as I look at these illustrations. Panache and Bo’s escapades in Rome are great fun.

  2. You certainly made me smile with quiet joy as I read this post, Joanna! As you know from my review, I love “Little Bo in Italy” — the illustrations are amazing, and of course Julie and Emma are — yes — two of my favorite children’s authors as well. No surprise there, to any of our little circle! I must see if I can get copies of the first two books, as our public library no longer has them! *glares at library* (I do own a copy… or two… of “Little Bo in Italy”. It’s up on display on the top shelf of my bookcase, very close to Mousical. Hmm… I wonder if it’s a good idea to have a cat that close to Addie and Pipkin and all that lot?) Thanks for mentioning my favorite name-use in the book!

    I think I’ll re-read “Italy” now.

    • Joanna says:

      As I am battling with the challenges of creating effective, anthropomorphic characters right now, Beth, I have to say Julie and Emma have created some awesome cat and mouse personalities.

  3. KwesiFriends says:

    I like cats very much, Little Bo looks cute and I have this new urge to adopt a Persian cat. Poor me, my dormitory administrator don’t like pets so I have to surrender my pets everytime I go back to the other city.

    • Joanna says:

      Yep, that is one of the frustrations of student life. As soon as you get your own apartment you’ll be able to get that Persian 😉

  4. Patricia Tilton says:

    I am so happy you selected the “Little Bo” series. With your love of the animal world, it was a perfect series for you to review.

    I love the very first book, which I bought years ago, but agree that my favorite is Little Bo in Italy” as Henry Cole’s illustrations are delightful and keep getting better. And I love how Julie and Emma include travel and native language of the countries in their books. So good for kids to learn about the world through the eyes of a cat.

    The real test was with my granddaughter at Christmas. Keira loves kittens and cats, and our daughter-in-law reports that the most recent book was a big hit. She’s old enough to appreciate longer books now, so will have to purchase the others in the series.

    Again, a great review Joanna!

    • Joanna says:

      I too really appreciate that woven into the darn good stories are language and locational information for kids. This is a style I am keen on myself.

  5. I love your cat-theme. And I didn’t know that Julie Andrews had a collection of children’s books! I’m definitely going to hunt for these titles in our community library. =)

    As I was reading this post, I was reminded of the NYRB series by Esther Averill about a cat named Jenny. She was also traveling the world, if I am not mistaken. I’ve done a review of one of the books in the series entitled Jenny Goes to Sea (http://gatheringbooks.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/nyrb-reading-week-jenny-goes-to-sea-story-and-pictures-by-esther-averill/) – I thought you might want to check it out. It could be a wonderful addition to your feline-frenzy collection here. =)

    • Joanna says:

      Myra, Julie and Emma have written some awesome children’s books. Their latest is called “The very fairy Princess”, with a sequel coming up next month. Thanks so much for the tip on “Jenny”, will check it out right away.

      Edit: Have just read your post and you are so right, this is a book after my heart; cats and travels. I love the fact that there are so many different purebreds mentioned. I also appreciate, as always, the incredible depth you go into in your reviews.

  6. Janelle says:

    We our working our way through Little Bo in France right now. What a wonderful series. My kindergarten-aged daughter loves the Little Bo character. Andrews uses some complicated words in her stories. I’ve even had to look a few up!

    • Joanna says:

      I am so glad you and your daughter are enjoying Little Bo in France. you are right, Julie and Emma do like kids (and adults) to stretch a little for the vocabulary!

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