Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Midnight Kittens by Dodie Smith

Something of an oddity, The Midnight Kittens was first published when Dodie Smith was 82, when it came out as the same time as the second volume of her autobiography, Look Back with Mixed Feelings. I suspect it works best for the generation for whom 101 Dalmatians was a newly published book - they'll be able to read and revisit their childhoods. For children now, the headmaster whose methods are "modern" and based on counselling theory, and the twins' school, will seem odd, and the hippy squatters will be an anachronism in a time when travellers are mostly feared and despised.

It's the story of Tom and Pam's half-term visit to the grandmother who has cared for them since the death of their parents, and the four kittens who come to eat the food put out for the hedgehogs. It's a very slight story and its brevity makes it seem unnecessarily hysterical, I'm afraid. A more leisured pace would have allowed some time to put the children's fears for the kittens into perspective, while also foregrounding the adventure which follows their meeting with the past owner of Freke Hall.

The book's real magic now is in the enchanting illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. However, it might be rather nice for reading aloud, and perhaps there are still old-fashioned little girls who would enjoy reading it for themselves.


  1. Interesting. People do say that kids don't change but of course they do, very much so. I like Dodie Smith but seem to remember how the young couple in 101 Dalmatians get a little house right next to Regents Park or something. Yes, a little house near Regents Park - £3 million? If it was very small it might go for £2 million!

    But there is also something very nice in getting a glimpse into an old fashioned world, with old fashioned attitudes. Just William, E Nesbit, they manage to cross the time barrier for many kids. So does Enid Blyton actually.

    1. I think the Dearlys were quite comfortably off! But yes, my favourite books these days seem to be nostalgic.

  2. Louise Stothard22 March 2012 at 12:40

    You may be interested to know that this lovely little book is being re-published by Catnip Publishers in September this year. We are delighted to be able to bring this book to the attention of today's children and it is good to read the favourable comments above!

  3. This is good news, Louise - I think it would be a lovely book to share with children by reading aloud.