I don’t regard myself as a connoisseur of children’s books, though I’ve read quite a few over the years (what parent hasn’t?), but it’s been a while. Still, it made my dip into the world of ‘Varjak Paw’, a Mesopotamian blue cat, all the more refreshing.
Originally published in 2003 and winner of the Smarties Prize Gold Award, in Varjak Paw the author (S.F.Said) has created an interesting main character, heroic but humble, timid but courageous, naive but open to new ideas and tolerant of different pedigrees and perspectives. In keeping with classic books, such as “Watership Down”(Richard Adams, 1972), the fact that the characters are animals simply alters the context, but not the need for the cast to resolve the attendant challenges. In this example, feline blue-blood Varjak Paw and his family are living a leisurely existence with the Countess, but when their kind benefactor mysteriously disappears, Varjak Paw finds himself traumatically relegated to the street and facing threats to which he is not accustomed. The young cat needs help and to learn quickly how to survive.
Given the nature of the book, it is only right that due credit also go to the illustrator, Dave McKean, whose minimalist black and white drawings complement the story and deftly draw the eye, providing a visual treat that supports the fast-moving narrative. I note there is also a sequel to this adventure (“The Outlaw Varjak Paw”, 2005), which I shall add to my tbr pile, but in the meantime, I have sent my copy of the original book to my eight year-old nephew for a rather more expert opinion, though I remain confident that he will approve.