Saturday, August 16, 2014
ORLANDO THE MARMALADE CAT BY KATHLEEN HALE
I never formally studied children's literature, so I'm not sure if there's an established term for it, but I have a particular fondness for those rare picture books in which the illustrations enhance the story exponentially, providing visual jokes and insight to the characters and settings. It's as if the illustrations have a wholly separate life of their own that crackles with wit and humor and keen observation, and when married to the text, you are quite simply transported. Of course, all picture books provide illustrations, but from my perspective, there are only a few that truly create this magical confluence.
Off the top of my head, I would put Edward Ardizzone in this category, as well as Kay Thompson's Eloise series. Their books are a joy, not just to read, but to experience. Today, I had the great pleasure of reading through my first Orlando book. Oh my God. Kathleen Hale was an absolute genius. Thank you so much, Frederick Warne Publishers for reissuing this series.
From what I've read online, Ms. Hale created these books from stories she made up to entertain her children at bedtime. The characters are Orlando, the Marmalade Cat and his stylish wife Grace, along with their three kittens, Blanche, Pansy and Tinkle.
I was fortunate to stumble upon a second-hand copy of "Orlando Keeps a Dog" yesterday. As I began to catalog this book for sale, I became smitten with the presentation and the story and decided to keep it for myself. Even from the opening pages of the story, I was struck by this bit of text and the accompanying illustration:
" Orlando and Grace padded softly, side by side, with their tails twined together; they never bumped into each other, nor fell out of step, for they were always interested in the same thing at the same moment."
Isn't that just lovely? And that's just a "throwaway" sketch on the copyright page.
And then there's this scene, in which Orlando and his family have hired a pet for their family; in this case a french dog named Bill, who is somewhat terrorizing them. They send Bill's secretary cat, Flute, out when Bill is sleeping, to purchase stilts, with which they can "walk about out of Bill's reach".
These were "elegant little bamboo stilts, topped by green velvet pin-cushions for the cats to fasten their claws on to."
A few scenes later, Grace goes shopping for a new outfit in which to walk Bill the dog. And the reader spends minutes and minutes studying the shop window, just as Grace must have, looking over the latest fashions and accessories. Really, check it out; there are nosegays, a triple-nipple swimsuit, a fish purse and woolen balls for the kittens.
There are just so many clever and wonderful aspects to this book. I can't really do it justice here, but I urge you to find these books online or in your local library and give them a rotation in your bedtime reading ritual. As I understand it, there are 18 Orlando titles. There is also a tantalizing biography of Kathleen Hale called "A Slender Reputation" which I would dearly love to read, but the cheapest copy I see for sale is about $60.00. I'll have to check my library for that as well.