‘The Cat Who Came in off the Roof’ by Annie M.G. Schmidt (Review)

IMG_5172It’s time for another review of translated fiction for children on the blog, which means that after a short absence, my trusty assistant Emily is back to tell you all about another classic tale.  I can assure you all that she’s very excited to talk to everyone about today’s choice, a story about a journalist, a cat and a woman – or should that be a cat or a woman?

*****
What’s the name of the book, and who is it by?
The book is called The Cat Who Came in off the Roof, and it’s by Annie M.G. Schmidt (and it’s translated by David Colmer).

What’s it about?
It’s about a lady called Minou and a man called Tibble.  Minou was a cat her whole life until she became a human!  She lives in Tibble’s flat and helps him keep his job as a journalist by picking up information from the Cat Press Agency (the CPA!), a group of cats who bring along news for Minou to tell Tibble – all for the price of a piece of fish.  Then, Tibble realises Mr. Ellmore has crashed into the fish shop, but no one believes him because everyone loves Mr. Ellmore (even though he is VERY nasty to cats), so Minou hatches a plan to get some evidence to make people believe Tibble.

Did you like it?  Why (not)?
It was a very good book 🙂  I like how Minou is always acting cattish – she purrs, hisses and rubs up against people!  She can also talk to cats, and that’s how she keeps Tibble’s job.

What was your favourite part?
I don’t have a favourite bit – I loved every bit of it!

Was it difficult to read?
Maybe a few bits were hard to read, but most of it was very easy, and I understood the story.

Would you recommend this book to other boys and girls?  Why (not)?
I think this is a good book for everyone, but girls will LOVE IT 🙂  When Minou turns into a lady, it’s mostly about helping her be a good human and not hurt anyone with her very sharp (pink) fingernails, and I think girls my age will like this a lot.

Emily, thank you very much.

*****
As you can see, Emily enjoyed this one a lot, and that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.  Schmidt has been described as ‘the Queen of Dutch children’s literature’, and Minoes (the original title of this book, published in 1970) is one of her best-known works.  In fact, in 2001 it was turned into a film which was both a commercial and critically acclaimed success.

Once again, Pushkin had one of the best translators on the case, with Colmer (who has brought work by Cees Nooteboom, Dimitri Verhulst and IFFP-winner Gerbrand Bakker into English) on duty here.  Having had a quick flick through the book myself, it does read nicely, with a most appropriate tone – whatever an appropriate tone is for a story about a cat turned into a woman:

     “Ssss…” said Aunt Sooty.  “I can’t blame her.  You must have done something ghastly to be punished like this.  Turned into a human!  What a horrific punishment.  I wouldn’t be human for all the canaries in China.  Tell me, was it a magic spell?”
     “I don’t know,” Minou said.
     “But you must know how it happened?”
     “I went out as a cat and came back as a human, that’s all I know.”
     “Incredible,” Aunt Sooty said.  “But it must have been your fault.  You probably did something terribly uncattish.”
p.16 (Pushkin Children’s Books, 2015)

It’s a lovely story, but without the right translator to get it across into English, it would all fall flat – credit to Pushkin for getting the best person for the job.

Another aspect of the book that both Emily and I appreciated is how it looks and feels.  It’s a beautiful design, and the cover is of the same family as those of the two Erich Kästner books Emily tried last year.  Hopefully, this will be the standard design for the press’ chapter books – they certainly look nice on my daughter’s bookshelf 🙂  I wonder what else might be coming up?

Anyway, The Cat Who Came in off the Roof gets a big tick from Emily (and me), so if you have a young girl, or boy, with a passion for reading (or cats), we can definitely recommend this one.  And if you’re enjoying our series of posts, watch this space – I’m sure there’ll be more of Emily’s adventures in translated fiction before too long 🙂

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10 thoughts on “‘The Cat Who Came in off the Roof’ by Annie M.G. Schmidt (Review)

  1. Hi Tony, nice to read your review of “Minoes”. Here in the Netherlands, where I live, Annie M.G. Schmidt is a really big name in childrens literature. She is a bit for us what Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling are for the English speaking world. My personal favorite of her books is “Pluk van de Petteflet”, a story about a small boy who rides along the town with his pick-uptruck. I don’t know or this book is translated into English. If it is, I’m sure your daughter and you! would like that one too.
    I always love reading your reviews, especially about books that I may want to read myself one day. Greetings, Erik
    ps: I have my own blog. Unfortunately my reviews are in Dutch, but I have also posted a few lists of my favorite books in several categories, so you can get an idea of what I like.

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    1. Erik – Thanks 🙂 I don’t think any more of Schmidt’s work is available in English, but we can always hope (and if Pushkin have success with this one…). I’ll have a look at your blog – while my Dutch isn’t all it could be, my mix of English and German means I can usually get the gist, at least 😉

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  2. Our kitty is named Minou, which I’m sure you know if French for “kitty.” This sounds like a perfectly charming story, which I will clearly have to read to our “girl”, and probably my class, in the future.

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    1. Carola – Obviously, she has a slightly bigger profile in the Netherlands than in the Anglosphere. Let’s hope more of her books get translated soon 🙂

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  3. Hi Emily, Thanks for writing such a great review. I’m really glad you enjoyed the book and you seem to be just the kind of reader Annie Schmidt had in mind. (Though you might be a bit younger than some of the kids who read it here in Holland.) My daughters liked it too when they were little and it was a lot of fun to finally get a chance to translate it. I did have to think hard about some of the names and jokes though. Bye, David (the translator)

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    1. Thank you for writing to me. I really liked the book 🙂 Now I can tell my teacher that the translator commented on my review!

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    1. Rosie – Emily is eight, and she loved this 🙂 However, she is a good reader, so it depends really – I’d say eight to ten, perhaps…

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