Thursday 15 November 2012

The Tobermory Cat by Debi Gliori: reviewed by Gillian Philip

I’ve been a big fan of Debi Gliori since my children were small. Her books were favourites in our house, particularly the beautiful No Matter What (famous for making parents choke up over the final pages). The Tobermory Cat is another of those enchanting books that, although wholly created for and focused on the child, manage to have plenty of interest for the adults who will have to read them at bedtime - again and again...and again.   

All the cats of the island of Mull are special. There are the Woolly Cats of Loch Ba, the Singing Cats of Staffa, the Sulky Cats of Salen (I love the snotty Sulky Cats), and the Seafaring Cats of Fishnish. Only in Tobermory are the cats ordinary; all they want to do is catch mice, eat fish, and watch the clouds go by. This is doing nothing for the tourist industry. So the people of Tobermory decide - prompted, as they should be in such a book, by a very small person - that they’re going to train their cats to be special, too.
Training cats? You can imagine how that works out.

But there’s one cat who wants to be special. He’s quite determined to be special, but he doesn’t know how. So he decides to ask the advice of everyone he can think of...

Of course, things don’t work out as he planned - but they do work out, and perfectly. This isn’t the only twist in the book, though: for that you have to reach the final, text-free double page, where children will meet some old familiar friends, in a perfect setting to say goodnight. It’s the sort of endearing spine-tingler that I’d have loved turning to at the end of a bedtime story. Far more importantly, so would my children.

The paintings are delicately beautiful, from broad landscapes to delicious small details. There are animals to spot, cats to identify, and so many funny pictorial asides, I’m still finding new ones. I love the typical Highland hardware store, and the mother’s expression on the beach is so familiar (I’ve worn it) it made me laugh out loud. The Tobermory Cat tells a child something loving and reassuring - and it’s funny, too.

Children will love the fact that the Tobermory Cat is real. Ginger stray cats with big personalities have roamed the town since at least the days of Saki - legendary local characters, like Greyfriars Bobby or the Loch Ness Monster. This latest incarnation will draw even more visitors to a beautiful island. So, congratulations to Debi Gliori, Birlinn Publishing and the people of Mull (to whom it is dedicated) on such a joyous book. I loved it.

The Tobermory Cat by Debi Gliori; published by Birlinn Limited



Penny Dolan said...

Great review! Looks like a delightful picture book set in a magical place. Debi's plot line with the other cats eg "Sulky Cats of Salen" is an inspired touch - and if ever there was a place that was made for illustration, it's Mull. The details in Debi's work must really add to the fun of the story for children as well as for any adults reading aloud to little ones.

Jackie Marchant said...

The Tobermory Cat looks like such a lovely book. Can't think of a child to buy it for, so I'm going to buy it for myself!

Gillian Philip said...

Thanks Penny! The details really are lovely - and Jackie, that's what I did - my kids are a bit old (and yet not quite old enough :-) ) so I got a copy for myself!

Candy Gourlay said...

Lovely. Can't wait to get my copy of the Tobermory Cat! Haven't been to Tobermory for 18 years. Must go back!

A. Colleen Jones said...

Lovely! I am getting a copy of The Tobermory Cat for my niece in Toronto. I'm trying to pass on my love of cats to her - I think this will help! Colleen

Anonymous said...

"Children will love the fact that the Tobermory Cat is real. Ginger stray cats with big personalities have roamed the town since at least the days of Saki". Saki's story was not set in Tobermory - the roaming was done elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

The story about Tobermory Cat was created on facebook in early 2011. That's the reason why people have heard about "Tobermory Cat". Previously there was no historic link with cats in Tobermory as you try to suggest - if you visit Tobermory you will find that out. Writers may know about Saki's work but most people don't, he's rather obscure these days. The story on facebook is clearly the source/ inspiration for Debi's work rather than Saki. To sum up, some people seem rather keen to force feed Saki's cat lots of red herrings! The source is obvious;

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