I had a most unusual experience recently with this book. I was browsing at a local children's bookstore (sorry, Amazon!) when I saw this book on the shelf. A thrill of recognition shot through me like a bolt of lightning! This book had been one of my favorites (...).
I immediately purchased it, and read it to my kids. Have you ever had fond memories of something from your childhood, but found out when you revisited it as an adult that it didn't hold up over the years? Luckily, that is NOT the case with The Fire Cat--this book is every bit as wonderful today as it was 40 years ago.
The illustrations deserve comment. Esther Averill was amazingly deft in her illustrations of cats; anyone who has owned a cat will appreciate the subtle perfection of the way she captures the poses of the cat in various situations. Yet her illustrations of the people and objects in the story are pretty crude. They don't have the obvious charm of Maurice Sendak's work, or the zany energy of Dr. Seuss. But I assure you the illustrations will captivate any young reader as the perfect companions for the text.
And what a text! It is elegant and beautifully structured, yet it's so simple and straightforward that any preschooler can easily follow along. Pickles, the main character, starts off as a bit of a bully, but by the end he has completely redeemed himself and is a hero. I especially like that the good things that happen to Pickles don't just happen by chance, as they do in so many other children's stories--Pickles actually works hard to better himself.
This book is truly a classic. If your budget permits, spring for the library binding. I guarantee that if you get it for your kids, they will someday be reading it to their own kids!