HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Cat Stories
Author: James Herriot
Illustrator: Leslie Holmes
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, 1994
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Herriot, James. Cat Stories (published in 1994 by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10010). James Herriot was the pen name of James Alfred (Alf) Wight (1916–1995), an English veterinary surgeon and writer, who used his many years of experiences as a veterinarian to write a series of books about animals and their owners. In 1940, he moved to work in a rural practice based in the town of Thirsk, Yorkshire, England, with Donald and Brian Sinclair, and the following year married Joan Catherine Anderson Danbury. In his semi-autobiographical books, Wight calls the town where Herriot lives and works “Darrowby,” which he based largely on the towns of Thirsk and and nearby Sowerby. He also renamed Donald Sinclair and his brother Brian Sinclair as Siegfried and Tristan Farnon, respectively, and used the name “Helen Alderson” for Joan Danbury. Wight’s son, also a veterinarian, has said that the books are only partially autobiographical as several events that actually happened in the 1960s and 70s are transported back to the 1930s and 40s.
Herriot first published six short books, which in the United States were released as three combined volumes. They were All Creatures Great and Small (1972, incorporating If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet); All Things Bright and Beautiful (1974, incorporating Let Sleeping Vets Lie and Vet in Harness); and All Things Wise and Wonderful (1977, incorporating Vets Might Fly and Vet in a Spin). He has also written James Herriot’s Yorkshire (1979), The Lord God Made Them All (1981), and Every Living Thing (1992). I first became acquainted with the series as a result of watching the long-running BBC television program based on the books and shown in the United States on PBS. Then my mother gave us copies of the books which are cute stories but have quite a bit of cursing and profanity, even some vulgarity, and many references to drinking alcohol. Cat Stories tells about Buster, the kitten who arrived on Christmas; Alfred, the cat at the sweet shop; little Emily who lived with the gentleman tramp; Olly and Ginny who first appeared at the Herriots’ house in Every Living Thing; and others.
We are “cat people” with two pet housecats, both neutered toms—one a huge, hulking yellow tabby that our older son brought home when it was a tiny, barely four-week-old kitten, and the other a sleek black stray which adopted us after our younger son found him under our back porch. I had hoped that Cat Stories might omit some of the objectionable features of the other books, but there are still a few instances of cursing, profanity, and drinking alcohol, though perhaps not as much as in the larger volumes. There is also a companion, Favorite Dog Stories (1995). Because of the language, I would not recommend them for youngsters. Herriot did write several shorter stories suitable for children–Blossom Comes Home (1969); Moses the Kitten (1984); Only One Woof (1985); The Christmas Day Kitten (1986); Bonny’s Big Day (1987); The Market Square Dog (1989); Oscar, Cat-About-Town (1990); and Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb (1991)—which I believe were all included in an omnibus edition, James Herriot’s Treasury for Children (1992).