When my sister was in London for a week in November, she picked up a special gift for me at The British Library. Cats in Books is subtitled, "A celebration of cat illustration through the ages." Rodney Dale tells the story of cats in manuscripts and books, placing them in literary and historical context.
According to Dale, the book "celebrates people's fascination with cats through the ages." The first illustrations of cats come from the Lindisfarne Gospels, done between 698 and 721. There are cat illustrations from The Book of Kells, and sketches done by Leonardo da Vinci. It's a fascinating story, covering everything from witches' cats to Dick Whittington and His Cat, along with Puss in Boots. Lewis Carroll's famous Cheshire Cat is shown by three illustrators.
The book is fascinating, including the stories of the authors and illustrators, as well as their drawings of cats. Sometimes, the book tells the the story itself, including Beatrix Potter's second story to feature Tom Kitten, The Roly-Poly Pudding, and the plot of The Cat in the Hat. Then there are the cartoonists, such as Bernard Kliban and Jim Davis.
As a cat lover, I found this to be a lovely, small book. It captured so much of the history of cats in books in just 112 pages. My only quibble was the small print on some of the pages, when original illustrations were used. The book is a little treasure. And, there's no better way to end this commentary than with a quote from the book, and Rudyard Kipling's illustration from "The Cat That Walked by Himself." Dale ends with, "Perceptive illustrators have always understood the essence of being a cat."
Cats in Books: A Celebration of Cat Illustration Through the Ages by Rodney Dale. The British Library, 2008. ISBN 9780712350235 (paperback), 112p.
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