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Mog the Forgetful Cat - Judith Kerr
Member Name: Celandine
Mog the Forgetful Cat - Judith Kerr
Date: 03/09/01, updated on 03/09/01 (285 review reads)
Advantages: Story, illustration, and the character of Mog
Disadvantages: I can't think of any
This is how the book starts, and it's a proper book, too. Not a board book, but a slim paperback about 25cm by 20cm, with proper words, and proper coloured pictues on each page. So:
"Once there was a cat called Mog, and
she lived with a family called Thomas.
Mog was nice, but not very clever.
She didn't understand a lot of things.
A lot of other things she forgot.
She was a very forgetful cat."
And above the words we see the Thomas family, all lined up as if in a freindly family photograph, and nicely ruffled, so they don't look too formal. Here's Mog, too, right at the front, larger than life and wearing a happily goofy expression, looking slightly upwards as if she's seen a flying kipper.
So, more of Mog, and her lovely forgetfulness. Turn the page and we have lots of little pictures of Mog, all about her, the forgetfulness, and her catflap. The one I like best is:
"Sometimes she thought of something
in the middle of washing her leg.
Then she forgot to wash the rest of it".
And we see Mog, leg held high, looking happy but slightly quizzical.
Mog, you'll have gathered, is a cat with character. This is one of the really nice things about her, and the book. I think it's the illustrations that provide the character, th
e text just describes them nicely, really. Having said that, the words have a lovely sing-song quality to them. They don't rhyme, but they do have rhythm, and Judith Kerr uses a limited vocabulary, to specificaly help children who have just learned to read. The repetition of words and phrases is something that helps keep smaller children spellbound, too, but it's not just the words and the pictures, it's the way that both are combined.
This is something else I enjoy about the "Mog the Forgetful Cat" - the way the whole book is put together. Sometimes we have lots of little pictures on a page, with words by them, sometimes a spread of two pages is used for one big illustration, sometimes the illustration is on a single side with the words at the bottom, or right, or top. Sometimes the picture curls around the words.
I keep seeing, in bookshops and libraries, lots of children's books with a set format of pretty picture on one page, words underneath, and, although this might give an illustrator more room for detail, or for prettiness, it just doesn't give a story the same fun quality that Mog has, in spades, to me anyway.
I think Ellie must feel the same. She's still quite little to like such a big book, but it's her favourite for bedtime reading at the moment. She sits on my lap the whole way through it, not squiggling, but pointing, and exclaiming, and enjoying Mog and her scrapes. She doesn't understand the words, of course, but she does like the pictures, and she can tell from them, and the rythm of the words, that "Mog the Forgetful Cat" is a proper story, with a beginning, middle and end. And Mog is funny, too. Just look at her expression as she roams around the garden, and the joyous smile on her face as she comes in through her catflap, simply because she's coming in through her cat flap - oh, and of course when she dreams she has wings and is flying after owls. She's very fu
nny, and very silly, and terribly, terribly forgetful, which is how she saves the day, without realising, of course.
So, on to the story, because that's the fun bit, as well as the pictures and the words, of course. Mog is having a very bad day:
"Even the start of the day was bad.
Mog was still asleep.
Then Nicky picked her up.
He hugged her
and said, "Nice Kitty!"
Mog said nothing.
But she was not happy."
And you can tell, because she's wearing a patient but disgruntled expression. As the day goes on she gets into scrape after scrape. She forgets that cats don't have eggs for breakfast, and eats Nicky's egg instead, then she follows the milkman outside the front door, because it's raining in the back garden, but it might be sunny in the street. It's raining, of course, and she gets chased by a dog, forgets her catflap (she always forgets her catflap), surprises Mrs Thomas, squishes her best hat by accident, can't find a nice place to doze, and, eventually, when the house is ringing with cries of:
"Bother that Cat!"
she takes solace in Debbie's room, where she forgets Debbie is not a kitten, and then Debbie dreams she's being eaten by a tiger, and then Debbie wakes up in tears, and , oh, poor Mog, she runs out of the house, out of her catflap, and into the garden, where she sits in the dark:
"And thought dark thoughts.
She thought, "Nobody likes me.
They've all gone to bed.
There's no-one to let me in.
And they haven't even given me any supper"
Oh, poor Mog, but silly Mog, too, because of course she's been given supper, we saw Debbie give her supper earlier, and of course she can get in - she's just forgotten all about her catflap again.
And this is yet another reason I love this book. There are all sorts of little things to do with the plot, or to do with
Mog, that you can point out while you're reading it. Mog is such a character, and she's so funny, that we sit there exclaiming:
"Oh, look at Mog dreaming that she can fly -silly Mog - but doesn't she look happy though", or:
"Ha! Doesn't Mrs Thomas look silly wearing her squashed hat", or
"Mog, Mog - remember you've got a catflap".
There are little details, too, that add to the story - look at the headlines of the paper Mr Thomas reads at breakfast, and you'll spot one. And Mog is such a characterful cat. The pictures are characterful, too. they aren't pretty-pretty, but neither are they big bold bright drawings. Rather, they're a mixture, with enough detail to give a real sense of place, and people, but not so realistic that they're dull. I love them, I really do. Looking at them I'd say they're a mixture of coloured pencil, with oil pastels, some watercolours, and pen and ink used to give detail. It isn't really the technique, though, or the fact that they are 'realistic' without being so realistic as to be dull as ditchwater. I think it's the expressions, the characters, of the whole family, not just Mog, that make them interesting. Mog is the star, though. She's a proper cat, and behaves in a catty way. She's gorgeous, and makes Ellie point and smile, and me giggle.
I especially love the picture where Mog, saving the day, quite unwittingly, jumps up at the kitchen window:
"She meowed her biggest meow.
Very sudden, and very, very, loud"
And we see her spreadeagled, all white tummy and paws, against the kitchen window. Cats do that, you know. You open the curtains and -ooh- there's this clambering cat that wants to be let in, hanging frantically off the window panes.
I won't tell you how Mog saves the day. Even though this is a book for small children it does have a proper story, and
I don't want to spoil it. But of course Mog saves the day. It's that sort of book, with a proper happy ending, with everything resolved, and Mog's bad day ending on a high note. Mog gets a medal, you know:
"She also had an egg every day for breakfast.
Mr and Mrs Thomas told all their friends about her.
They said, "Mog is really remarkable."
And they never - (or almost never) -
said, "Bother that cat!"
Good for Mog. She didn't mean to save the day, you know, it just happened, and it's a lovely ending, with a big picture of a happy Mog, complete with medal and egg. "Mog the Forgetful Cat" is that sort of book - everything is resolved, and it portrays a lovely, happy, safe world, where everyone is nice, really, and things are all sorted out. Everyone is happy, and justice is done. A proper ending.
Of course, this was the first of a few 'Mog' books, but it's definitely my favorite, although we can never decide at bedtime between this one, or "The Tiger that came to Tea", by the same author. "Mog the Forgetful cat" was first published in paperback in 1975, and some of the drawings are a bit dated, in terms of clothes (note Nicky's interesting choice in footwear), stereotypes (it's very nuclear family), and, oh, the look of the kitchen units, I suppose. I don't think it matters that much, though. Mog is so much the star of the book, and cat's don't date. Neither does character.
I'm quite glad, in a way, that Mog is an 'old' character. If she was a new one we'd probably have lots of cuddly Mogs, video's of the film of the book voiced by Neil Morrisey, and interactive toy Mogs with voice activated catflaps. I'd hate that. Some characters belong in books, and some books you read to children, or were read to as children, are special. They need to stay as books. Plus, no toy could ever capture the
range of 'puzzled' expressions Mog rejoices in. She's a very individual cat, and deserves her egg (although I don't think she's that bothered about the medal).
(All quotes taken from: "Mog the Forgetful Cat", by Judith Kerr, published by Collins, and priced £4.99)