Fantasy cats (starring Golden Cat, by Albert Bigelow Paine)

We are, if all goes well, getting a kitten tomorrow! (Hopefully one that actually will catch mice. I have caught more mice with my own two hands than our current kitty has). So here's a short list of some cat books, in which magic, or at least the supernatural, plays a big part. I know I'm missing lots--please feel free to leave your favorites in the comments!

First off, in honor of Mother's Day--Golden Cat, by Albert Bigelow Paine, illustrated by Pelagie Doane (1934). This was my mother's most loved book when she was a girl, and she passed that love on to me and my sisters; as result, the book (that's the actual one shown at left) is now in pieces, but still cherished. It's the story of an orphan girl named Cathy, who lives with a cruel step-aunt. One night Cathy is wakes to find a large golden cat outside her room. A cat that can talk: "I come on an errand, a secret errand...you are supposed to help me." It turns out that Cathy's aunt is a wicked witch--and also a cat. With the help of a magic potion, she can keep her human form--but this magic potion is also desperately needed by a Fairy prince transformed into a cat by the witch's magic. So Cathy and Golden cat find the potion, and take it to Fairy Land, but through mischance, there's not enough of it to do the job properly, and Prince Florizel is left with a white paw. Cathy, Golden Cat, and a rough old Tom cat set off on a journey, partly in Fairy Land, and partly in our world, to find the ingredients of the portion, before it is too late.

It is full of lovely descriptions, and magic, and Cathy and her cat friends are charming characters. And it is just perfect for the eight year old or so cat-loving girl, especially with the added bonus of the lovely black and white illustrations!

Sadly, it's long of print, and rather expensive...but if you ever see a copy for a reasonable price, snag it!

Another favorite cat book from my own childhood (which you can get for two cents at Amazon) was The Little Broomstick, by Mary Stewart. A girl named Mary is sent to her Great Aunt's house deep in the English countryside; there are no children her own age, and the only two creatures at all friendly are the gardener and a black cat, Tib. Mary finds a little broomstick, Tib leads her to the rare Fly-by-night flower, and next thing you know, Mary finds herself flying through the sky... and the broomstick lands in the stable yard of a school for witches.

This is not a friendly wholesome school. Horrible magical experiments are being performed on animals, including Tib's brother Gib. Gib's own owner, a boy named Peter, is desperately searching for him, and the two children, and Tib, end up rescuing the animals from their cages, and escaping the evil witches and warlocks in an utterly brilliant chase sequence that is one of my favorite bits of fantasy ever.

And here are some I read as a grown-up, and enjoyed lots!

The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber. A very charming and beautifully illustrated picture book about a cat called Mowzer who lives in the Cornish fishing village of Mousehole. When storms trap the fishing boats inside the harbor, Mowzer and old Tom, her personal fisherman, set out to test the power of the Great Storm-Cat, who's plays with fishing boats as though they were mice....The sweet songs of Mowzer tame the savage beast, and she and Tom make it home safely with a boat full of fish.

And here's another picture book by Antonia Barber--Catkin (Candlewick, 1994) A little girl has been kidnapped by fairies, and Catkin, her kitten, must journey under the hollow hill to save her. He knows not to drink from the willow stream, and never to give the fair folk his name, but will his wits be sharp enough to best the fairy king in a game of riddles that will determine his fate, and that of his friend? It's a beautifully illustrated fantasy, the type of picture book that is most excellent for the independent reader, as well as making a great read aloud.

Highway Cats, by Janet Taylor Lisle Three tiny kittens are dumped onto a highway median one night, and miraculously make it across the traffic to a scruffy patch of woods that's home to a community of cats. Hardscrabble, down-on-their luck cats, who make a living scrounging in the dumpsters of the strip mall (except for one wily Siamese, who runs a rat farm back among the trees). It's not much of a life, but the ones that are tough and self-centered survive.

This creed is disrupted by the arrival of the kittens, who melt the hearts of the toughest cats of all. And when the cats small and scraggly place in the world is threatened by a new highway ramp, it is the cats' love for the kittens (who are much, much more than ordinary kittens) that will save them all.

My older boy loved this one when he was ten.

Carbonel, The King of the Cats, by Barbara Sleigh (originally published 1955, brought back into print by the New York Review of Children's Books). Rosemary and her mother share a small flat, and there's very little money. So Rosemary decides that she'll clean houses during the summer to earn a bit herself, and sets off to the market to buy the broom she'll need. There she meets a strange old lady, who sells her a second-hand broom, one that comes with a cat...Neither the old lady (a witch) or the broom (it flys) or the cat are ordinary. The cat is Carbonel, a Prince of the Royal Blood, bound into servitude by the witch's magic, and desperate to become free so that he can save his cat people, denizens of the rooftops, from falling victim to tyranny and chaos. Rosemary and her friend John resolve to break the spell, with the help of the magic of the broom, and some tricks that Carbonel has up his paw...

It's a charming story of magic intersecting the ordinary world, that fans of Edward Eager should enjoy. And there are two sequels, The Kingdom of Carbonel, and Carbonel and Calidor, which continue the fun.

And finally, Catwings, and it sequels, by Ursula Le Guin, are utterly lovable books. Winged kittens making their way through a dangerous world! So cute! So utterly engaging!

My nine year old is reading these now, and finding them very good. (He's also engrossed in the Warriors series, and I the new kitten, which is going to be his very own, is probably going to end up being called "something" kit).

And just to give a nod to Young Adult cat books--there's White Cat, by Holly Black, and Cat Girl's Day Off, by Kimberly Pauley. I'm not doing well with fantasy or sci fi cats for grown ups--all I'm coming up with is the flying cats of Ursula Le Guin's Rocannon's World.

Edited to add:

Thanks to an anon. commenter, I've now read The Blue Cat of Castle Town, by Catherine Cate Coblentz, which can be summed up thus: magical kitten as catalyst for creative joy and artistic integrity in an early 19th century Vermont town. Here's my full review.

Like I said up top, please feel free to share your own recommendations!


  1. Thanks for a great list! I can't resist magic animals and will have to go looking for some of these. My own favorites include "The Blue Cat of Castle Town" by Catherine Coblentz, which made such a big impact on me as a MG reader eons ago that I recently went hunting for a copy. For adult or YA readers, I'd recommend Diane Duane's "The Book of Night with Moon" and "To Visit the Queen," about wizard-cats who guard the gates between times.

    1. I shall definitely look for the Blue Cat! (ha--just checked, and it's my library system, and requested!) And thanks for the Duane recommendation as well--I've enjoyed lots of books by her, but have never read these.

  2. It's not my favorite book about a cat, but there's the 1931 Newbery winner, The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth, and there's also Thomasina by Paul Gallico.

    1. And your mentin of the Cat Who Went to Heaven reminds me (dunno why) of Lloyd Alexander's Time Cat.... Viz Paul Galico--I actually like Jennie much better, and in fact think that it would be a nice one to read to the boys....

  3. Also, does the book you reviewed quite recently, Cat Girl's Day Off, by Kimberly Pauley make the cut?

  4. I like the titular cat in Grimbold's Other World by Nicholas Stuart Gray and the cat in Diana Wynne Jones' short story/novella, "What the Cat Told Me."

  5. Lloyd Alexander has Time Cat, I think, and there's always No Flying in the House. The cat is evil, and the tiny adorable Gloria is a dog, but still one of my favorites!

  6. I like Mogget, the rather ambivalent cat creature in Garth Nix's Abhorsen books (though he's only am incidental character, I suppose), and Grimbold - but Carbonel is my favourite! I hadn't heard of the Catwings books, they look enchanting.

  7. Thanks for these suggestions. We're definitely cat fans at our house! Here are a few others:
    - Lloyd Alexander has another cat book, "Dream-of-Jade." It's a picture book appropriate for fairly advanced independent readers, and it's only fantasy inasmuch as the wise and clever cat talks. But it's a lovely and funny story (the humor is very satirical, as opposed to the slapstick variety.)
    - Also, a magical (enchanted) cat and her kitten play a fairly large role in "Castle in the Air" by Dianna Wynn Jones.
    - And I just have to mention that a talking cat, Nasturtium, is a major character in my "Kate and Sam to the Rescue," and she's joined in the third book, "Kate and Sam and the Cheesemonster," by an engineer kitten called Pivot.

  8. For SciFi cats, I love Mercedes Lackey's Skitty stories. It's been a while since I read them, but IIRC they are novella length.
    "A Tail of Two SKitties"


  9. These all sound adorable! Catkin and possibly Catwings (I can't remember!) are the only two I've read. I really should read more magic cat books, especially since I have a talking cat as a major character in my own writing!

    And I LOVE the story about your mother's book!

  10. I own a copy of Golden Cat. It is a beloved book of mine, though I stumbled across it by accident as an adult. It was saved from a rubbish heap after having been "Discarded" by the public library. Who knows how long it had sat in storage as the last stamped entry was 1957. I wish I had been read the story as a child as you were. Your mother really must have shared the magic of Golden Cat with you.

  11. You guys should try War. Love. Meow.


    It's fantasy with a touch of romance. While it isn't perfect, I think it's pretty amusing and worth the read. But I may be a little biased because I wrote it.


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