by Alan Armstrong
In this Newbery Honor Book, Alan Armstrong draws on his research into the life and letters of an
18th century textile merchant to craft a heartwarming work of juvenile fiction. He published
the non-fiction side of his work under the title Forget Not Mee & My Garden
(sic). And perhaps you
will be interested in reading it after this story, or rather the story within the story, draws you
into its intriguing world.
The story of Whittington is familiar to fairy-tale readers, tellers, and listeners throughout the
English-speaking world. Dick Whittington, in case you've forgotten, was an English boy with few
career prospects, who ran away from home, got to London, and fell starving on a wool merchant's
doorstep. The merchant took an interest in the boy and made him his apprentice. As Dick grew in his
master's favor, he traveled foreign lands and became very wealthy, served three terms as Lord Mayor
of London, and spent much of his fortune improving the conditions of poor people -- who repaid him
by making him a folk hero!
The most interesting part of the legend (which is to say, the least likely to be true) holds that
Dick owed his fortune to his cat. This version of the story focuses on the relationship between Dick
Whittington and his cat, or rather, cats. This is unsurprising, since the narrator is himself a cat,
descended from Whittington's legendary pet and known by the name Whittington himself.
Whittington the cat tells this story-within-a-story to a barnyardful of misfit animals who have been
adopted by a kindly man named Bernie. The framing story concerns Whittington's barn mates: the
retired racehorses; the crippled hen; the rooster who has lost his voice; the lady duck who is in
charge of everybody; and Bernie's grandchildren, who come to the barn to listen. The granddaughter,
Abby, is trying to help her brother Ben learn to read. It isn't easy, because some of the letters
look backward to Ben. Whittington is concerned about this, because he once loved a boy who was sent
away by his parents because of the same problem: dyslexia.
So Whittington the cat tells the story of Whittington the man, by way of calming Ben down when his
reading lessons upset him. Meanwhile, the residents of Bernie's barn observe their own arrivals,
departures, and life events. There are even some scary moments. Though the future of the world is
never at stake, and the story has no gigantic conflict between good and evil, it does open an
interesting window on a historical era, exotic plants, the lives and loves of domestic animals, and
a family you quickly come to care about - and all this in trim, economical style that comes in at
under 200 pages.
Recommended Age: 10+
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