“The Cat Who Came in off the Roof” by Annie M. G. Schmidt is a charming tale of a shy newspaper reporter and the cats of Kellenthorn, a small town where cats are the preferred pet, and they roam the streets picking up news and tidbits of information.
Tibble is the shy news reporter who only writes about cats. In the first chapter, his editor tells him to stop writing about cats. Unless he finds other stories (that are NOT about cats), he will lose his job. Well, Tibble is extremely shy, and even talking to his editor is stressful for him. When he sees a dog chase a young woman up a tree, he rescues her. But she disappears before he can question her, so accompanied by his cat, Fluff, he writes up the story of the German shepherd who chased a lady up a tree. The reader should note here that Tibble is frustrated because he can’t find his peppermints.
In the next chapter, the reader finds out more about the strange tree-climbing lady. She is really a cat who was changed into a person after she ate a mysterious substance from the rubbish bin next door to the house where she lived. She grabbed some clothes from the lady of the house and is now roaming the streets. She is hungry and asks the neighborhood cats for help.
Imagine Tibble’s surprise when he hears a noise in the kitchen and finds the young lady in his garbage with a fish skeleton in her mouth. She is soaking wet, and his first thought is that she looks like “a sad, half-drowned cat. A hungry stray!” So he feeds her, and, after some discussion, offers to let her sleep in a large cardboard box in his extra room (a storage room). She had wanted to sleep in the cardboard box! He doesn’t believe that she had been a cat until he sees her talking to his cat. She then tells him exactly where his peppermints are after Fluff tells her where Tibble had left them.
One thing leads to another, and soon Tibble is learning all sorts of news — about everybody — to write about through Miss Minou (the cat-lady) and the steady stream of information from all the cats in town. When a teacher, for example, is very sad about not having his 25th anniversary of teaching celebrated (because no one remembers), Tibble interviews him and writes about it. Then the town does celebrate it.
Of course there is a bad guy, Mr. Ellmore, who owns the deodorant factory in town. He hates cats and owns a dog who also hates cats. He wants to be elected as a town commissioner (so he can expand his deodorant factory), so when asked to be the head of the Animal Lover’s Association, he agrees. In the meantime, he kicks cats and whips them when no one is looking. He does other horrible deeds which only the cats witness. Finally, when he drives into the fishmonger’s market (a cat favorite) and injures the fishmonger, only one human, Billy, is a witness. But Mr. Ellmore bribes Billy into silence with a job offer. Only the cats are there to tell the truth.
Tibble finally gets the courage to write about the incident and the truth about Ellmore, but the town and his editor are outraged. There is no proof of the incident until Bibi, a young girl who has befriended both Minou and Tibble, works with Minou and the cats in town to gather evidence about Ellmore’s true nature.
The story is charmingly told and has a predictable but lovely ending. It’s a perfect read aloud for the intermediate classroom or for children from third grade through sixth grade who love animals. It’s utter fantasy, but an adorable fantasy that kids will enjoy. As any cat lover will recognize, Schmidt perfectly captures the mannerisms of a cat-turned-human, and the twist at the end is perfect!
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