Cats are a bit of a thing for my youngest. Cats Ahoy! (written by Peter Bently and illustrated by Jim Field) meets with her approval ‘because it was really fun with cats in it’. Winner of the 2011 Roald Dahl Funny Prize (0-6 category) it is a cleverly humorous rather than laugh out loud funny.
When Alfonso the cat overhears news of the biggest catch ever, he rounds up the town’s cats for a treat. Setting sail in The Kipper, equipped with pistols and cutlasses, the cats sneak up in the mist on the trawler boat and its huge haul of haddock. Terrified by the hissing and howling coming from what appears to be a ghost pirate ship, the trawler’s crew abandon ship and the cats move in for their fishy feast. Complete with a ‘Yo, Ho, Ho and a carton of cream’ they sneak away to enjoy their plunder. The trawler’s skipper recounts his tale of a phantom ship bearing a flag of two fish bones and ‘something that looked like the skull of a … cat’ and the townsfolk note that the town’s cats seemed to have disappeared… (and to say more would spoil the ending).
Cats Ahoy! gives lots of opportunities for good sound effects – a favourite part is ‘when they went on the ship in the dead of night because they scared the fishermen’ which invites lots of hissing and caterwauling as can be seen in this video of Peter Bently reading the book to a class of children.
We also like the illustrations – particularly the cats and spotting the small details in the pictures. There are also lots of rhymes and alliteration which has prompted some colourful descriptions. I don’t think it gives away the ending too much to say that the word play in the conclusion can be slightly lost on younger children, but very satisfying for older children once they get it (and in my experience test it out by questioning unsuspecting cats).
Jim Field has a good website which shows some of the illustrations – I was really surprised to read not only was this his first picture book, but that he had only met Peter Bently for the first time when they went to collect the Roald Dahl prize. Presumably they had talked lots, but I had always assumed that even where writers and illustrators are paired up by publishers, they would sit down together to discuss draft illustration ideas and final placing etc.
My only complaint is a practical one, which is that unless you are in good light, the text is quite hard to read. The combination of blue print on dark pages and a slightly glossy paper which reflects light has had us moving it round to read (and this was my clear sighted children, not my ageing eyes!). A plea to publishers that all picture books should be tested for reading in the subdued light of bedtime.
For anyone looking to use the book in a reading group or at school the Scottish Book Trust has a package of case studies and ideas.