Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell

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Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: A mystery story for young readers with wonderful illustrations & a strong dose of the absurd, this book has a gentle adventure used as a pretext to explore the life & environment of the main character.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: February 2007
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
ISBN: 978-1405050579

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Ottoline Brown lives in the Pepperpot Building in the Big City with her friend, a small, very shaggy creature rescued from a Norwegian bog called Mr Munroe. Her parents are away, travelling and gathering objects to include in the family collections (which include Odd Shoes, Parrot Clocks, Portable Fishbowls and Emperors' Hats). Ottoline looks after the collections while being looked after by a host of service companies like The Home Cooked Meal Co. and Smith & Smith Pillow Plumping and Curtain Drawing Technicians. She is a very clever and inquisitive girl, with a diploma from the Who-R-U Academy of Disguise and is very interested in what's going on around her: from neighbour' conversations she listens to via the heating pipes in the laundry basement to less commonplace mysteries - and it's her who solves the mysterious series of high-society crimes baffling the police: lapdog disappearances followed by daring burglaries.

Chris Riddell is an illustrator and a cartoonist (he works for The Observer amongst others) as well as the creator of The Edge Chronicles and the graphic side of Ottoline and The Yellow Cat is outstanding. The book is beautifully produced, with gold embossing on the red-dominated cover, semi-gloss, quality paper, carefully chosen, sophisticated type, a Royal Postcard Collection add-on in the back, and of course the illustrations themselves, black and white pen drawings using an occasional splash of red for emphasis. I loved the illustrations: quirky would be the word to apply if it wasn't so clichéd, with fantastic detail, spot-on characterisation and plenty of exploration text embedded in the pictures, used as captions and in speech bubbles . The Big City of Ottoline's is very reminiscent of Sendak's night city from In the Night Kitchen - or so thought my daughter aged 5, although the style is definitely Riddell's own.

The spirit of the story and the whole book is firmly in the tradition of the absurd. Several Polish books were brought to my mind when I read Ottoline and The Yellow Cat while I couldn't exactly find an English language analogy. There are hints of Gorey, even Dahl (but without the darkness) and Harriet the Spy, even, somehow, The Rose and the Ring but with a good dose of a surreal humour.

The adventure is rather mild (and I couldn't help being reminded of one of the Hercules Poirot stories which also involved lapdogs) but diverting enough, but fundamentally it's just a pretext to present the milieu and the details of the strange life of Ottoline, well loved by her travelling parents but sometimes rather lonely in her big collections' filled apartment (and by no means a super-hero) is interesting in itself. Mr Munroe is an important part of the story, and there is a nice lesson about friendship there too.

There was a danger of a whole series planned and coming up in what I felt a slightly mercenary attempt to create a collectible franchise but as there is no explicit pushing of the next book (though it is mentioned) I am willing to be charitable here and I won't hold it against Ottoline and The Yellow Cat. You can see it as derivative, or you can see it as post-modern and literate, which would be my choice.

Ottoline and The Yellow Cat is an entertaining book with charms that make it worth reading, in particular the surreal humour. It would be probably most suitable for girls who have just become capable of reading short novels (this one is almost 200 pages but the type is large and a lot of these pages are graphics). It is better borrowed but I would consider buying it for children with a strong interest in the visual arts: the illustrations are a delight to explore and if my daughter's reaction is anything to go by, could be a great inspiration.

Thanks to the publishers for sending us this beautifully produced book!

Booklists.jpg Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell is in the Top Ten Quirky Kids' Books.

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