Even before rereading it for this review, this is one of the Jacqueline Wilson books that I best remembered from my childhood—and for good reason.
Title: The Cat Mummy
Author: Jacqueline Wilson
Published: Yearling, 2001
My Rating: ★★★★
Verity’s old tabby cat Mabel might not be quite as lively as she used to be and yes, she smells a bit and doesn’t always make it to the litter tray on time, but she really loves her. More importantly, Mabel once belonged to Verity’s mum–not that Verity actually ever knew her mum because she died. She really doesn’t mind too much about not having a mum, apart from when she goes to visit her grave, which makes her think about being in the ground with a head full of worms.
So when she finds Mabel dead in the wardrobe, it seems to Verity that it would be much better to take a few lessons from the ancient Egyptians: rather than bury the poor old thing she decides to mummify her so they can be together forever. But what with the problems involved in finding the mummification materials and the fact that Gran would probably fuss about hygiene if she knew anything about it, things don’t quite go as planned.
Be advised that this review contains discussion of death and animal death.
One of my strongest memories from when I was a kid (yes, I know that that wasn’t all that long ago, so don’t feel the need to remind me) is right before our oldest cat died. Stripes, her name was. It sticks in my mind for two reasons. The first, I was walked into the room where Stripes was lying in a box. She was shaking. The other reason is how emotional my dad was. He had tears in his eyes. It’s one of the only times that I remember seeing him like that. Stripes meant a lot to him.
Stripes meant a lot to me, too. She was a good cat. She would carry around fur balls like they were kittens. Losing her was a very real, very painful experience. And I was just a kid. I didn’t even understand the upset that I was trying to process. But, it was very upsetting. Jacqueline Wilson even mentions how upsetting the death of a pet can be for a child in her introduction to this book, and cites it as a reason for writing it.
It’s interesting. Death is all over children’s fiction. How many dead parents are there in kids’ books? Honestly, too many to count. The mother of Verity, The Cat Mummy’s protagonist, is dead. And yet, it’s hard to find a children’s book that actually deals with grief. Grief is the subject of The Cat Mummy, and it’s handled with great realism and sensitivity.
The Cat Mummy follows what young Verity goes through as she tries to deal with her cat Mabel passing away. And, in the periphery, as her dad and grandparents continue to mourn her mother, who passed away when Verity was born. It’s a short book, nine chapters and less than a hundred pages. It also takes place over just a few days. For such a relatively short book, however, it manages to say a lot.
Grief is difficult to write about, even when handling it with a great deal of complexity in a book for adults. Here, it’s handled in a sweet, simple story for children. It approaches death as a child would, and connects with it as a child would. Yes, there’s nothing in this book that’s going to be hugely surprising, but nothing needs to be. This is a story which focuses on a real emotional experience that children go through, and I think it does it well.
The Cat Mummy also discusses the death of Verity’s mother in a real way, acknowledging the grief and mourning of Verity’s family, as well as Verity’s feelings of disconnect as she never met her mother. Verity is only able to speak to Mabel about her mother because it’s too upsetting for the other members of her family. When she loses Mabel, she loses the only connection that she feels she has. This book doesn’t just tell the story of the death of a pet. It tells that story—and well—and then uses it to speak about the absence of a parent. It’s not just yet another case of a children’s book with a parent who died before the events of the book take place, and no comment.
I wish I could give this book five stars, but it’s just a little too simplistic in some elements, and there were a few instances of paragraphing and formatting errors. Nevertheless, this is a sweet story about a real emotional experience that many children go through, and I enjoyed it just as much now as I did when I was a kid. I recommend this—and big time. Even to adult readers.
This isn’t the only time that Wilson deals with the topic of grief. For example, she also wrote Vicky’s Angel, about a girl’s and her struggle after losing her best friend.