Clever Cat: Can This Cat Corrupt?
Children's Book Review by Steve Barancik

Book Title: Clever Cat

Author: Peter Collington

Illustrator: Peter Collington

Book Type: Picture

I would prescribe this book for this kind of child: If you worry your child doesn't misbehave enough, then this is the book for your child.

I think this book is a: book that's only appropriate for the particular prescribed audience.

Review: There seems to be a debate over Clever Cat by Peter Collington. Is the book's message subversive? Or are adults taking a children's book way too seriously?

Clever Cat is aimed at readers (and readees) aged 4-8. It features the elegant, if somewhat staid, artwork of Peter Collington, also the author. It features the elegant, if somewhat staid, housecat, Tibs.

Tibs is the forgotten member of the Ford family. Mother, father, sister and brother can barely be bothered with him. He's lucky when he gets fed, and he's never treated with anything but annoyance.

Think Cinderella.

One day, hungrier than heck, Tibs fixes himself a meal.

Getting the can out of the cupboard. Opening it with a can opener. Putting it in a dish. Eating it with a spoon.

This is not an animals-with-human-characteristics book, so the Fords are rather amazed, as you can imagine.

However, the Fords don't stay amazed. In the manner of humans throughout history, they soon grow used to the extraordinary.

They can't be bothered to buy food for Tibs anymore, or even to let him back in the house. He's given a house key and an ATM card. Tibs discovers a neighborhood cafe.

The Fords are displeased when they see how much money Tibs has been spending. They tell Tibs it's time to get a job.

Sure enough, Tibs gets one--at the cafe.

(It should be noted that the lazy neighborhood cats are totally unimpressed with Tibs' skills. Disdainful even.)

Tibs works his butt off at the cafe but has little to show for it after paying rent to the Fords. Come his second week on the job, he oversleeps and gets fired.

The Fords aren't happy. Tibs is told to get another job...and quickly.

But Tibs is learning a little something from the neighborhood cats. Maybe it's better not to get a job. Maybe if he starts acting like a cat, he'll start being treated like a cat. Because, frankly, his dismal existence before he started exhibiting these skills was better still than the one that resulted once people started having expectations of him.

So what does Tibs do? He starts playing dumb. He waits at the door to be let in. He waits in the kitchen to be fed.

And the Fords accept it. They seem to figure that Tibs' talents were just a short-term thing. They get back to disdaining him, and feeding him, in precisely the same fashion as before.

The difference being that Tibs now knows this is the good life.

Is this a subversive book?

Well, it was given to my child by a friend of mine... a rather subversive one!

And it would certainly seem that perhaps the main message of the Clever Cat is that your efforts will go unrecognized, that no good deed goes unpunished.

But there's another way to take the book. The silly cat got back to being a silly cat. Could the real message be that people shouldn't try to be something other than they are?

I don't think so

It's apparent even to a child that Tibs is choosing to play dumb. He chooses to underperform because no one rewards him for overperforming.

And that's a rational choice for Tibs, given the fact that he's saddled with such a crummy family.

If you want to go further with the message of Clever Cat, it can easily be taken as a rather clever allegory! The Fords are the government in an inefficient welfare state. They demand all of the fruits of their workers' labor, and so they create a disincentive for work!

Whether or not you choose to take the message that far...

One thing that can't be argued is that the Fords are a rather nasty family. Tibs is, in effect, their youngest family member. He's treated rather awfully.

There's a lot to be taken from Clever Cat, perhaps too much.

I would recommend this book for a particular kind of child. If you worry your child is a little meek, is a little too willing to take too much guff from others, then it's very possible (s)he could get something positive from Clever Cat.

In other words, if you think your child could benefit from a small dose of subversion, then this could very well be your book. I was that kind of child growing up, and I rather wish someone had read Clever Cat to me.

However, if your child has the usual amount of willfulness (or a little more) and knows how to cause trouble, chances are the last thing (s)he needs is the message Clever Cat offers.

You'd be clever to steer clear.

Read the ultimate clever cat story: Puss In Boots!

Back to Best Children's Books children's book review page.

Best Children's Books home.

New! Comments

Have your say!

Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.

Show your reviewer some

Do you know enough Seuss to excel?