Winston and the Marmalade Cat

Written by Megan Rix
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1962. Seven-year-old Harry loves helping out Mr Jenner at his local RSPCA centre. He longs for a pet of his own but his father, blinded by a wartime grenade, says ‘No’. It’s not safe; he might trip over it or step on it. So when Harry rescues a tiny marmalade kitten stuck in a drainpipe, he reluctantly takes it Mr Jenner, who is delighted. Ex-Prime Minister and wartime hero, Sir Winston Churchill, lives nearby at Chartwell, and he loves animals, particularly marmalade cats. His 88th birthday is coming up and the kitten, now named Little Houdini after the great escapologist, will be the perfect present for the great man.

Megan Rix gives her young readers stories within stories: the seven-year-old Winston’s awful time at school and his love of his cat, Sergeant Tommy; his affection for a pig called Piggly; his wartime pet, a miniature poodle called Rufus; and, of course, Harry learns at school exactly what Churchill did during the war and how he inspired the nation during those dark days. Harry loves the stories but will he ever be allowed his own pet?

This book ticks a number of boxes; it’s perfect for children of six plus who love animals; it relates, in interesting bite-size chunks, stories of Churchill’s life, from his lonely childhood, his love of painting and animals, how he held the nation together during World War II, and, lastly, as the aged war-hero. And the thread of Little Houdini’s own story binds it all together.