I will admit that I am a sucker for books about cats. Give the cats inner lives or wings or anything like that, and I am quite willing to abandon doubt, suspend disbelief and leap joyfully off the roof–that is to say, into the story. I found The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof via a charming Guardian review by a 9-year-old reader. Having spent a great deal of my childhood assuming that one had to be dead to be a writer, I was easily convinced that I ought to read this book.
The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof begins with Tibble, a frustrated journalist. His finely wrought writing does not find favor with his editor because all Tibble ever seems to write about is cats! Then a cat who has inexplicably been changed into a human walks into Tibble’s apartment and settles in. The lovely Minou retains enough cat traits to set in motion a heartwarming tale, its twists and leaps and silliness completely true to its wacky characters and implausibly bold premise.
And so it was that I was introduced to the legendary work of Annie M. G. Schmidt. Dead, alas, just as my Guardian reviewer had discovered. Died in 1995 at the age of 84. One doesn’t need to “find” her in the Netherlands, it seems. Everyone knows her. She’s considered the queen of Dutch children’s literature. People at large can quote from her many songs and poems. From the official Annie M.G. Schmidt web site:
Her work has appeared in translation all over the world, with the odd exception of the English-speaking countries, where very few of her books have been published. In 1988 the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren presented her with the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the “Nobel Prize” of children’s literature. The jury praised her “ironic tone, witty criticism and style that is amusing, clear, rebellious and simple to its essence.”
Odd exception indeed. However that happened, I’m delighted that The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof has made it across the Atlantic. I feel especially delighted to be able to channel Astrid Lindgren and cry, “Annie, I love you so much, where have you been all my life?”