Michael Morpurgo: Owl or Pussycat?

Illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Published by David Fickling Books, Great Britain, 2020

I think I have read just about everything that Michael Morpurgo has written…I just love the way he invites the reader into the story, makes the characters come to life, draws on our collective emotional experiences of what it is like to navigate the complexities of the world and shows us the way to go forward with integrity, honesty, and respect, even as we sometimes fail and make mistakes.

This story is about something that actually happened to Michael Morpurgo when he was a six-year-old schoolboy at St Cuthbert’s in England. His mum had read Edward Lear’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, to young Michael so often, and he had recited it so well in class, that the teacher nominated him to play the part of Owl in the Christmas school play. This was especially wonderful because the Pussycat was going to be played by Belinda…Michael’s best friend and the first girl he had ever loved. That’s a big thing for a six-year-old boy.

There are lots of preparations for the big night, lots of ups and downs in the rehearsals, but finally the curtains open on the stage and Michael and Belinda begin the performance of their young lives, as Owl and Pussycat.

All is going well, until the Owl picks up his guitar from the bottom of the pea green boat and his mind, voice, and heart freezes. The miracle that happens next is a testament to the wonder of friendship, love and team-work.

The illustrations for this story are so tenderly drawn by Polly Dunbar, with gorgeous details on every page: parquetry floors, costumes, paperchains, a double page spread for the opening night on stage and the wonder of friendship and miracles etched in people’s faces. An added bonus is that the end pages beautifully illustrate the complete poem by Edward Lear.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and anyone who has memories of school plays and being saved by a friend. Below are more picture book titles by Michael Morpurgo, but if you have older children, please check out his other popular junior fiction books, you won’t be disappointed:

Coming Home
Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman

Wombat Goes Walkabout Illustrated by
Christian Birmingham

On Angel Wings
Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Grandpa Christmas
Illustrated by Jim Field

Dolphin Boy
Illustrated by Michael Foreman

It’s a Dog’s Life
Illustrated by Patrick Benson

The Silver Swan Illustrated by Christian Birmingham

The Best of Times
Illustrated by
Emma Chichester Clark

The Little Albatross
Illustrated by Michael Foreman

The Goose is Getting Fat
Illustrated by Sophie Allsopp

We Are Not Frogs!
Illustrated by Sam Usher

Simon James: Days Like This

Illustrated by the author

Published by Candlewick Press, 1999

My first day at school to-day.

Funny sort of day.

Didn’t seem to learn much.

Seemed all we did was play.

Then teacher wrote some letters

On a board all painted black,

And then we had a story…

I don’t think I’ll go back.

By Rod Hull

Simon James has selected and illustrated a collection of small poems to be enjoyed and savoured by young and older readers alike. The poem written above by Rod Hull is my favourite. It reminded me of something my daughter said when she started kindergarten.

My mother-in-law had made her three new and wondrous dresses for the occasion. One dress for each day of the week she would be there. When the first three days were over, my daughter asked what she would be wearing next time she went to kinder. When she discovered there were no more new dresses, my daughter declined very politely to go to kindergarten ever again!

Poetry is a wonderful medium that can be used to introduce young children to the emotive power of words and to help them see the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life.

In this collection, we are sledding down mountains, fishing for guppies, stepping over stones, going on adventures, feeling the summer sun, and wondering about the mystery of a fallen seed and what it might become. Each poem has its own double page spread, giving you time to pause and contemplate the language and the illustration before turning the page and investing your thoughts anew.

Contributions have been made by Charlotte Zolotow, Ogden Nash, Steve Turner and many others. I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years as a gentle introduction to poetry and below are suggestions for more of my favourite poetry and nursery rhyme books:

Animal Crackers by Jane Dyer

A Classic Treasury of Nursery Songs and Rhymes
Illustrated by Trace Moroney

Playtime Rhymes: A Treasury for Families to Learn & Play Together Illustrated by Marc Brown

Eric Carle’s Animals Animals Compiled by Laura Whipple Illustrated by Eric Carle

My Country by Dorothea Mackellar Illustrated by Andrew McLean

My Very First Mother Goose
Edited by Iona Opie
Illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Chicken Soup With Rice:
A Book of Months
by Maurice Sendak

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli Illustrated by Archie Preston

Honey For You, Honey For Me: A First Book of Nursery Rhymes
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Chris Riddell

Shuffle and Squelch: Poems and Rhymes for Children
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Here’s a Little Poem
Collected by
Jane Yolen & Andrew Fusek Peters
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Little Poems for Tiny Ears
Poems by Lin Oliver
Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Each Peach Pear Plum
by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes by Raymond Briggs

Winter Bees and
Other Poems of the Cold
by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Rick Allen

Wynken, Blynken, & Nod
A Poem by Eugene Field
Illustrated by Johanna Westerman

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw
Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Out and About:
A First Book of Poems
by Shirley Hughes

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Ian Beck

Sing me the Summer
by Jane Godwin
Illustrated by Alison Lester

43671841. sx318
Mother Goose of Pudding Lane
by Chris Raschka
Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

Clancy of the Overflow
by Banjo Patterson
Illustrated by Andrew McLean