No list of #DutchKidLit would be complete without Minoes or The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt. Treasured by young and old, and the book Schmidt loved best, this original feline fantasy ranks among the most famous books for children from the Netherlands, and it’s easy to understand why.
In 2016 on the GLLI blog, reviewer Jenny Zbrizher wrote a lovely review:
“Shy newspaper reporter Tibble is in trouble with his editor for only ever writing stories about cats. A fervent cat lover, Tibble is too timid to seek out real news stories from human sources. Fortunately for him, he shortly makes the acquaintance of a mysterious young woman named Minou, whom he rescues after she is chased up a tree by a dog…”
“…He offers Minou shelter in his home, where he observes her many “cattish” traits: she nuzzles up to people (she has a soft spot for the fishmonger), purrs, hisses, and prefers to sleep in a box. She can also communicate with all the neighborhood cats, because, she claims, she used to be a cat herself. Her friendship proves invaluable to Tibble, as she takes it upon herself to supply him with local news which she learns through the grapevine of neighborhood cats – an informal Cat Press Agency. Soon the cats – a motley crew imbued with quirky, distinct personalities – stumble upon a juicy story with a nasty villain, but must find a way to prove its credibility when no human witnesses come forward to corroborate the cats’ intelligence.
This fanciful and funny story invites readers to suspend their disbelief and be charmed by the adventures of Minou, Tibble, and the Cat Press Agency.”
It’s really T.S. Eliot’s Cats meets 101 Dalmations, a crime caper starring the inner lives of cats as they take down nasty human villains through their vast street-wise animal networks in a cozy 1950s European setting full of attics and crooked streets. This is pure read-aloud genius, with matter of fact language that resembles a newspaper’s brevity that suddenly sparkles with humorous descriptions of MInou’s cat-to-woman metamorphosis and her prickly relationships with both stray and domestic feline friends.
In a recent interview at Five Books, Adam Freudenheim the managing editor at Pushkin Press which re-published Schmidt’s classic with new stylized illustrations, spoke to the perennial appeal of her writing: “It doesn’t feel like a children’s book at some level, with the journalist and the relationship between the man and the woman. It’s so quirky and I just love the whole concept of this cat who turns into a girl. It’s very well written and very entertaining. It’s an absolute classic in the Netherlands.“
So much a classic that there is a magical area dedicated to Minoes in the permanent exhibit at the Children’s Book Museum in The Hague, “Annie M.G. Schmidt’s Bold and Brassy Kids.” The Children’s Book Museum, along with the Literature Museum, are “part of the Netherlands Literature Museum and Literature Archive Foundation, whose mission is to showcase the power of literature and the richness of the Dutch literary heritage.” Here children and their favorite grown-ups can create a cat vlog with Minou, as well as “build the most beautiful poems” on their interactive poem-building site, which has large wooden words in Dutch and English that children can connect on a wooden wall and then the words read themselves out loud. For more about Schmidt’s poetry for children, please visit my earlier post #DutchKidLit – A Pond full of Ink: Annie M.G. Schmidt’s Most Beautiful Children’s Poems by Annie M.G. Schmidt, illustrated by Sieb Posthuma, translated by David Colmer.
An award-winning film adaptation was made in the Netherlands in 2001 called Minoes, and ten years later in 2011 it was dubbed into English and re-released as Miss Minoes. It is a sweet family film that is fairly true to the original and still very popular with Dutch children and families.
The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof exemplifies one of Schmidt’s major themes in her life and work, namely the importance of celebrating the shifting identities we all have, acknowledging the multiple selves in each of us whether naughty or nice. The question of whether Minou is a cat or a woman or a cat that is also a woman or a woman who is also a cat is up to Minou to decide, despite the pressure she feels from her sister and friends who are cats through and through. Schmidt is known to have said, “Yourself, who is that? You have so many layers within you, so many divisions, so many selves, that you never know; which one should I choose today?“ This understanding is Schmidt’s gift to her readers, her celebration of the multiplicity of identities we all have, and that’s why this novel, where Minou ultimately gets to choose, still captivates us. This is a timeless tale of being true to yourself for ages 9 and up.
The Cat who Came in off the Roof
Written by Annie M.G. Schmidt
Illustrated by Nathan Burton
Translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer
Originally published as Minoes by Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij, 1970
Published by Pushkin Children’s Books, 2014
You can buy a copy of The Cat who Came in off the Roof here.
You can read the first two chapters of The Cat Who Came in off the Roof via The Guardian and Pushkin Children’s Books here.
1971 Zilveren Griffel
“A satisfying and triumphant fantasy—one that will have readers watching what they say in front of their cats.” — Publisher’s Weekly
“A charming, refreshing, and funny treat.” — KIrkus Starred Review
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