The cat sat on the mat. Lots of cats do that, everybody knows. And nothing strange comes of it. But once a cat sat on a mat and something strange did come of it.
This is how it began.
There was once a little girl called Emma Pippin. She had red rosy cheeks and brown hair and she lived with her Aunt Lou. They were very poor, too poor to buy a house, so they lived in an old bus. The engine would not go, but it was a nice old bus and they loved it. The outside of the bus was painted blue, the inside was painted white, and the windows had orange curtains. There was a stove that kept them warm and whose smoke went out of a chimney in the roof.
It stood by a high white wall. Inside this wall were many lovely green apple trees, on which were growing many lovely red apples. The apple trees were owned by a proud, grand man called Sir Laxton Superb.
Well! There we have the makings of a curious story! What do Emma Pippin and Aunt Lou have to do with their neighbor, Sir Laxton Superb? With so many lovely apples, will dear Emma get any, or is Sir Laxton too stingy? And what of the cat? How does the cat enter in, and what strange thing happens when it sits on a mat?
This tale is just one of eight highly imaginative stories written by prolific British fantasy author Joan Aiken, and gathered into this tantalizing collection. The stories are short, sized for a very young child’s attention span, yet jam-packed with mesmerizing fairy tale ingredients — magic jewels, mysterious cats, a flying apple pie, characters that scramble out of book pages, exotic railway stations, a Baba Yaga-like hut, and wicked wizards, to name a few.
Besides the clever originality of these little gems, one nice quality is that each one is most definitely a happy-ever-after story. Nothing becomes too terribly alarming, and each one ends with a plentiful dash of sunshine. Compared with the Grimms Brothers fare, this is quite tame! Therefore, they can safely be read to a four-year-old, for example, at bedtime, knowing that what she will be left with is a scrumptious sweet nugget to wonder over while drifting to sleep, rather than something more fee-fi-fo-fummish. These are tasty enough to be enjoyed by slightly older children as well, to read on their own. Probably more girl-friendly by that point.
My edition is illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, whose black line drawings very nicely accompany the stories. He states that he was inspired by the drawings in Millions of Cats, and there definitely is a Wanda Gag-esque feel to them. I really like his interpretations of the characters and the scenes he has chosen to illustrate.
All in all, a charming, lighthearted collection. Here’s the Amazon link: