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There’s a delightful irony in the publishers sending me Ursula Moray Williams’s Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat, (MacMillan, RPP £9.99) to review.  Both as a teacher and a parent I enjoy children’s literature and I love animals.  Unfortunately, as all my best friends know, while I have no problem with a slobbering, or even a growling, dog and while many of my best friends are horses, I’m not a cat person.  Professionalism triumphed however, and as I read the book, directed I think at children between 7 and 10, I was sucked into the adventures of Gobbolino, the naïve kitten with the blue eyes and one white paw.
Gobbolino is a witch’s cat.  His mother was a witch’s cat, his sister, Sootica, is a witch’s cat and both of them were proud of that status.  Although he has the magical powers of a witch’s cat, Gobbolino dreams only of being an ordinary kitchen cat, loved and domesticated.  Things seem to start well for him.  Not a witch will take him because of his white paw and consequently he is deserted by the witch, his mother and sister.  He sets out on his own feline odyssey.
Gobbolino has a series of adventures in his search for the domesticity for which he yearns.  He almost drowns, is rescued by a farmer’s children and believes he has found the home he seeks but a hobgoblin arrives, realises Gobbolino’s provenance and creates chaos which leads to Gobbolino’s eviction.  He moves from orphanage cat to show cat to princess’s cat to ship’s cat but he is rejected from each refuge when his powers, always utilised with the best and kindest of intents, betray his origins.
Towards the end of the tale, Gobbolino is reunited with his sister, Sootica.  She berates his failure as a witch’s cat but, without betraying the narrative, blood transpires to be thicker than water and it is thanks to Sootica that Gobbolino ultimately finds his domestic dream.
Ursula Moray Williams’s classic was first published in 1942 and has never been out of print since.  This 70th anniversary edition is enhanced by the perceptive illustrations of Catherine Rayner.  Lothian Life reviewedCatherine’s Line Gallery exhibition in January and her deft portraits add a layer of character to the kitten.
Written at the height of an awful war, when insecurity was ever present, this kitten’s search for peace, for affection and for a very personal refuge must have struck a particular chord at the time.  It far transcends its origins however.  It poses ethical questions which children can both understand and with which they can identify.  Gobbolino seeks always to be kind and considerate but the unintended negative consequences of well-intentioned actions are a recurring theme.  It is the story of a small creature, plagued by a loneliness which he wants relieved, and that also will echo with many children, uncertain of themselves and anxious to find their own particular place in the world.
Ursula Moray Williams’s finely crafted tale has not, alas, converted me to cat-loving but the character of Gobbilino far transcends his feline limitations and has, I think, insinuated himself totally into my thought processes.  He will do the same for any 10 year old reader who cares about kindness and security and affection and about finding a personal place in the world.
The above article was first published in Lothian Life on 3 October 2012:

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