Re-imagining a text that already has an established image through the illustrations is always a little risky. Since Nicolas Bentley first populated Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats with his dapper cats-about-town, other illustrators have presented their view, notably Edward Gorey and most recently, Axel Scheffler. Now Arthur Robins has taken up the challenge in this picture book edition of Eliot’s much loved poem about Macavity. The result is great fun.
Here Macavity is very definitely disreputable – and frequently not there, his tail or paw disappearing off the page to the delight of young readers, who, encouraged by the text design, can all join in with the chant. The rhythm of Eliot’s words carry the reader from page to page – what a brilliant introduction to poetry – and there is nothing worthy about it; even the font has a suggestion of anarchy while remaining clear and legible; no gimmicks here. Macavity, himself, is gloriously unkempt, with a wicked glint in the eye. He is a cat for today, a street moggy, and very much in control.
This is a very welcome addition to any bookshelf, whether library or at home. The picture book format ensures it will appeal to the youngest as it should. However, the very modern illustrations suggestive of familiar cartoon worlds, combined with Eliot’s genius, make it a book for all ages. Let us hope that there will be more from this partnership.