If you decide to read The Time-Travelling Cat and the Great Victorian Stink, Julia Jarmon, (2010, 146 pages) don’t make the mistake I made. Don’t scratch your head over sentences like, “Get lost, yer little tea leaf,” getting completely confused because you don’t understand a lot of the words and expressions the author uses. Finally, I thought, “Geez- with all these unfamiliar words from 1800’s England there ought to be a glossary, I’ll just flip through to the back and… Oh. There it is.” Duh. The thing is, even though some of these weird words are great, such as “smatterhauling” (stealing handkerchiefs), in my opinion there are too many of them. Take my advice and put a bookmark by the glossary page. You’ll need it.
There were also several words that are used differently in the UK, such as “pong”. In England, “pong” is not a lame video game from the 80’s but rather a bad smell. Topher, the main character is upset at the beginning of the book because he has “holiday homework”. I was thinking winter break holiday, but the author meant summer, which in the U.S. we call vacation. These vocabulary issues kept me from losing myself in the story as I would have liked.
The Time-Travelling Cat and the Great Victorian Stink is one in a series of eight books about a boy named Topher who lives in London with his time-traveling pet cat, Ka. In this story they stay in London, traveling back to the mid 1800’s. In most time-travel books the characters know they are time traveling. This story is a little unusual in that when Topher travels back in time, “…all memory of his life as Topher Hope faded. He was Topher Rowley, an orphan on the run…” Topher Rowley’s parents had died, forcing him to live in a workhouse. He escaped from the workhouse, only to get trapped in a house of thieves and pickpockets who won’t let him leave.
While in the house of criminals, he uncovers a plot to kill Joseph Bazalgette, an engineer who was designing a great sewer system for London. In the old days before modern sewer systems, drinking water would get contaminated by toilet water and people developed the deadly disease of cholera. Topher knows Bazalgette’s work is going to make London less smelly and safer so he tries to save him.
But what about the cat, you are probably thinking. Ka, is modern Topher’s pet. Ka goes off time-traveling on his own sometimes. When he does, he is replaced in Topher’s bedroom by a small cat statue. The statue turns into the live Ka when he comes back. The description of the cold stone turning to warm fur is fantastically vivid. Ka is cool: wise, helpful, and cuddly to boot. When he talks he uses a lot of r’s:
“Hu…rrrrr…y. Hu…rrrrr…y.” “Wa…rrrrr…n. Wa…rrrrr…n”. ,
which seems the way a cat would talk, just a step beyond purring.
The four main things I look for in a time travel book are: 1. a great story, 2. good characters, 3. creative use of language, and 4. humor. Here’s how this book stacked up. 1. A lot of the tension in this plot has to do with a chase scene and fighting criminals. I would rather the author put me on the edge of my seat in a way that didn’t involve criminals and a chase scene, but the chase scenes did have exciting parts. 2. There weren’t really any interesting characters in this book, besides the cat. 3. The word choices the author use distracted me from the story. 4. This book was not very funny–I did not LOL.
To conclude, if you enjoy cats and chase scenes you might find this book a winner. Warning: there is much talk of poop though, so if you’re squeamish, beware!
In the first chapter of Time Cat, Lloyd Alexander, (1963, 206 pages), a boy named Jason learns that although his cat Gareth does not actually have nine lives he can visit nine lives. Gareth agrees to let Jason come along and they go to nine different countries, in nine different time periods, one right after another. They visit destinations that are the best of times for cats (Egypt, 2700 B.C.), and the worst of times (Germany, 1600). Egypt was very positive because the people revered cats as gods. Germany was a big negative, because there was a widespread which hunt going on, and cats were killed along with people who were believed to be witches. They also visit Ireland, Japan, and Italy where Leonardo da Vinci makes a cameo appearance.
I would have preferred to settle into one destination, instead of reading about nine. But even though the nine adventures are not connected each one is interesting. In every chapter, the author jumps right into the action. There’s a lot of really funny parts, like when the Egyptian ruler says, “I command this cat to purr and make himself agreeable to pharaoh!” and is surprised when the cat doesn’t follow his orders.
Jason and Gareth are good characters. They care about and try to protect each other. Gareth wants Jason to learn about himself via their journeys. The pair also try to help anyone else that needs it.
|Orange with white ankh||Black with white ankh|
|Speaks in phrases||Speaks in complete sentences|
|Eight books written about him||One book|
|Kills a rat||Kills a snake|
Here is the opening paragraph of Time Cat:
Gareth was a black cat with orange eyes. Sometimes, when he hunched his shoulders and put down his ears, he looked like an owl. When he stretched, he looked like a trickle of oil or a pair of black silk pajamas. When he sat on a window ledge, his eyes half-shut and his tail curled around him, he looked like a secret.
Paragraphs like this one in which the author painted such clear pictures in my mind with his words made this book a pleasure to read.
Next post: Hanukkah Time Travel Stories:
Jason’s Miracle, by Beryl Lieff Benderly, and
The Hanukkah Ghosts, by Malka Penn