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Carbonel, the Prince of Cats This is the story of a cat, a broomstick and an ordinary schoolgirl called Rosemary She bought them both in the market, quite cheaply Of course, neither the cat nor the broomstick were just what they seemed, and they turned up just when Rosemary badly needed something nice to happen to her A good cat is apt to be independent, so she did not have things all her own way, and as Carbonel proved to be a Royal cat in a very special sense, that was understandable Between the cat and the broomstick, Rosemary picked up some useful spells and magic, and the adventures they brought about turned a dull looking holiday into one long to be remembered for its unexpected excitements and rewards Very nice ordinary magic story, but it seemed a little too long There was the curious idea of not describing things by saying, I m not going to describe this food just think of the most wonderful meal you can imagine Quite the opposite of Elizabeth Goudge in Have you ever loved a book and its characters, been happy when their fortunes are good, and worried on their behalf when things are not going so well, been engrossed in their adventures, and delighted by the lively wit of the author only to have everything destroyed by a careless, jarring ending This is such a book.Carbonel the King of the Cats is a children s fantasy book by Barbara Sleigh, which was first published in 1955 It is perhaps most suitable for those between 7 and 11 years of ag Have you ever loved a book and its characters, been happy when their fortunes are good, and worried on their behalf when things are not going so well, been engrossed in their adventures, and delighted by the lively wit of the author only to have everything destroyed by a careless, jarring ending This is such a book.Carbonel the King of the Cats is a children s fantasy book by Barbara Sleigh, which was first published in 1955 It is perhaps most suitable for those between 7 and 11 years of age, but its humour means that it can be enjoyed at any age It is particularly good read aloud, for the younger end of the spectrum My most recent reading of this was a delight, with the talented reader imbuing the character of Carbonel with a regal presence, his voice when speaking this part reminiscent of Noel Coward.The story is based on an old folk tale from the British IslesThe King of the Cats , which was first found in the workBeware the Catby a William Baldwin in 1533, although it is probably far older than this Barbara Sleigh has borrowed the idea for her series of novels, but their tone is light hearted rather than frightening.The choice ofCarbonelas a name is significant It was first used in France, in the area called Gascogne, and was a name for a person with dark hair or a dark complexion During the Norman Conquest of England,Carbonelcontinued to be used as a name in the same context, deriving its origin from the Latin wordcarbo , which means charcoal.The black catCarbonelin this novel is, as the title says, a royal cat, but the story first focuses on our young protagonist, the ten year old Rosemary Brown Rosemary lives with her mother in a rather shabby flat, in Tottenham Grove, LondonRosemary and her mother lived at Number Ten, in three furnished rooms on the top floor, with use of bath on Tuesdays and Fridays, and a share of the kitchen It was not a very pleasant arrangement, because the furniture was ugly most of it was covered with horsehair that prickled, even through a winter dress , and the bathroom was always festooned with other people s washing But it was cheap and would have to do until they could find some unfurnished rooms Then they would be able to use their own comfortable, shabby belongings again We do wonder where Rosemary s father is this is 1955, so one parent families were not common It could be that Mr Brown has been killed in the Second World War, although this is never mentioned We do pick up straight away that both Rosemary and her mother are not really used to being quite so hard up, but determined to make the best of things Mrs Brown has to take in mending and other sewing work to earn money, and even so, she has to work much harder than Rosemary likes.Rosemary has just broken up for the summer holidays, and as every English child knows, those particular six weeks off school in the summer feel as if they will never end Both Rosemary and her mum look forward to that special time However, Mrs Brown has been offered three weeks work mending sheetssides to middlingand curtains, for one of her wealthy clients, Mrs Pendlebury Parker Incidentally, sides to middling for those who are baffled by the term, is a way of prolonging the life of sheets of very fine quality such as linen There are cut lengthways down the middle and sewn together with the comparatively unworn edges now forming the middle Some amateur seamstresses, such as my own mother, would also do this with ordinary sheets, as a cost cutting measure She would then cut the sheet down, to make a new smaller one It seems very bad timing, but any needlework is welcome, and Mrs Brown cannot afford to turn it down This means that she will not be at home for the first half of Rosemary s school holiday Rosemary is determined to make the best of this though, for her mother s sakeAnd perhaps, said Rosemary, brightening, you ll be rich enough afterwards to buy one of those things to make your sewing machine run by electricity This shows that they really must be quite poor, to not own an up to date sewing machine, which was a basic item in the mid 1950s especially bearing in mind that this is the way Mrs Brown makes her living.Rosemary really wants to help her mum, and stop her looking so tired all the time At least she could sweep, and polish, and wash up And if she had a broom, she would look quite professional, and may be able to earn some money to contribute to the household by going to clean other people s houses, too But she doesn t have a broom, and doesn t have much money either, so she walks to Fairfax Market to buy one, rather than going by bus It s quite a long walk though, and by the time she gets there the Market is just closing.Rosemary can t see a broom anywhere, and none of the stall holders she asks has one It looks as if Rosemary is out of luck, but then she spies a black cat, who is behaving in a very peculiar way It seems almost as if the cat wants Rosemary to follow it She follows the cat to a disreputable looking old woman who oddly seems to know exactly what Rosemary wants, before she has said anything.As Rosemary and the eccentric old woman talk, it becomes clear that she owns the cat, but would be willing to sell him, for exactly the amount of money Rosemary has left over after she has bought the besom an old fashioned broom made of twigs The old woman is obviously quite canny, selling Rosemary what is an old, tatty, unsuitable broom and the cat too, for three farthings extra, with the mysterious wordsThree Queens for a Prince Evenoddly she says to the catDon t say I never did you a good turn my boy Though mind you, it s only half undone The fact that farthings are still in use makes this novel feel very specific to 1955, as these little coins ceased to be minted the next year, although they remained legal tender until the end of 1960 The early ones from the time of Queen Victoria had been cast in copper, but therecent ones were made of bronze They were worth a quarter of a penny ie., 1d 2.4 old pence is equivalent to one new penny ie., 1p and having a robin on the reverse of the coin, were held in great affection by the British public In this story, we become aware that three old copper coins are significant, in fulfilling an ancient prophecy, to do with the old woman s cat For of course the old woman, Mrs Cantrip, is a witch who has decided to retire, and that is why she is willing to part with her magic catYou may call me Carbonel That is my nameview spoiler To Rosemary s immense surprise, she discovers that she can understand everything the cat says, as long as she holds onto the broom Carbonel haughtily explains that he is a Prince of the Royal Blood, but had been bound to Mrs Cantrip by a magic, spell, which could only be broken by fulfilling a prophecyA kit among the stars shall sit,Beyond the aid of feline wit.Empty royal throne and mat,Till three queens save a princely cat Rosemary has broken half the spell, by buying him with the three old copper farthings, with Queen Victoria s portrait on them But Carbonel is now owned by Rosemary, and so bound to be Rosemary s servant, unless they can find Mrs Cantrip s old cauldron and witch s steeple hat, and this must be done before the last of the twigs drops off the besom Otherwise it will be too late, and Carbonel will then be Rosemary s slave for ever This was all part of the original binding spell.There is no time to lose, as the broom hasprecious little life left in itand reminds Rosemary of a moulting parrot Rosemary, being a kind little girl, would never want to force Carbonel against his will, so the two set out to release him from the spell hide spoiler The writing is a joy, with the majestic Carbonel s wit and pomposity much in evidence Here he explainsThe Summoning Words , which would force him to run back to her side at any time, whether he liked it or notBy squeak of batAnd brown owl s hoot,By helleboreAnd mandrake root,Come swift and silentAs the tomb,Dark minionOf the twiggy broom The merest doggerel I know, but it works It wouldn t be so humiliating if it were better poetry , he said bitterly Whenever you say it I m bound to come, no matter how important the business I m engaged uponview spoiler Rosemary manages to win round the Browns cat hating landlady, and also becomes friends with Mrs Pendlebury Parker s nephew John The two have a series of amusing adventures in the course of collecting the items they need, and display quite a bit of ingenuity, meeting people from different backgrounds, and even managing to gain some extra work for Rosemary s mother whilst doing some of their friends a good turn.The individual episodes fit neatly into the daily life of Rosemary and her mother, and the contrast between the two children s lives is handled very nicely, with each learning from the other Rosemary may have never travelled in a chauffeur driven car, but neither had John ever been trusted to prepare himself a simple meal before The reader also realises that the children must earn the magic items, one by one, rather than just taking them.There is a subplot, as we see that the Kingdom of the Cats is falling into chaos through misrule by the Alley Cats without the rightful heir to take command When we learn that the fearsome leader of these Alley Cats is none other than Mrs Pendlebury Parker s long lostPussy Dinkums , the return of him to the Pendlebury Estate seems perfect hide spoiler Carbonel the King of the Cats fits nicely into the tradition of magical adventures for contemporary children of the time, which were popular during the 1950s, and a little later Many of the late Victorian and early Edwardian children s fantasies by E Nesbit, such asFive Children and Itcame back into print, and new author such as Mary Norton began her series of theBorrowersbooks, Edward Eager began his series novels starting withHalf Magicand most famous of all, C.S Lewis wrote theChronicles of Narnia.The novel Carbonel the King of the Cats is comparable with these classics The balance works well the fantasy parts about wishing magic, summoning spells, and rainbow magic blending smoothly into everyday life There are evocative descriptions, such asa superb moon, round as a pumpkin and golden as honey, filling the rooftop world with light, and deep, mysterious shadowThe characterisation is consistently good, and there is an exciting plot with plenty of tension Humour abounds Rosemary has to express all the magic spells in quickly invented rhyme And yet I was bothered by the ending, which stayed with me for several days It felt heartless, and frankly unbelievable that the other main characters would be so uncaring view spoiler All through the novel we had rooted for the dear old broom, who gave her all to help her three friends to regain Carbonel s rightful throne She pushed herself to the limit, often shuddering after a long flight, and was described asquivering with excitementjust before the final battle.And yet she had an ignominious end, off stage, ending up on a bonfire What s worse, when Rosemary learned of this, she didn t seem to feel the least bit regretful And yet we were emotionally invested in the broom This was a character we had learned to love perhaps my favourite character and equal to the hugely entertaining and vain Carbonel It just didn t feel right hide spoiler This was Barbara Sleigh s first children s book She had trained as an art teacher, although the first edition of Carbonel the King of the Cats was illustrated not by her, but by V H Drummond Later, Barbara Sleigh lectured at what was then Goldsmith s Teacher Training College, and began to write stories for children for radio Working for the BBC sChildren s Hourprogrammes, she met and married David Davis, who later became Head ofChildren s Hour.But the ending of this book seems to be a bad error of judgement Perhaps it is one which could be rectified in the two sequels,The Kingdom of CarbonelandCarbonel and Calidor , but somehow I doubt it This might otherwise have been a five star book a children s book of real literary merit As it is though, it remains a four star read for me, and the trilogy has remained a firm favourite with younger readers It is well above average, but a little tarnished by the ending of this first book.Here are some critical reviewsThe Carbonel books are excellent, imbued with wonder, dry humour, and practicality in equal measure, as well as a clear eyed and sometimes sardonic love of catsSchool LibrarianA delightful story for those who like impossible things to happen in a humdrum world The children are lively, the grown ups including the witch colourful and the mingling of magic and reality is most effectiveThe New York TimesA truly bewitching story reminiscent of Alice in WonderlandNew York Journal American 4.5 stars We loved this story of Rosemary, who hopes to buy a broom to help her mother earn money by cleaning over the summer holidays, and accidentally comes away with a witches broom and Carbonel, the King of the Cats There was some wonderful humour from Carbonel, who s voice we could hear when the broom was held This was fun for a read aloud, and we enjoyed the relationship between John and Rosemary, who despite being from different backgrounds were really good friends The end battle culm 4.5 stars We loved this story of Rosemary, who hopes to buy a broom to help her mother earn money by cleaning over the summer holidays, and accidentally comes away with a witches broom and Carbonel, the King of the Cats There was some wonderful humour from Carbonel, who s voice we could hear when the broom was held This was fun for a read aloud, and we enjoyed the relationship between John and Rosemary, who despite being from different backgrounds were really good friends The end battle culmination was less interesting to us than the everyday happenings There is a sad part near the end were the broom unknowingly view spoiler gets put on a bonfire hide spoiler Well, don t let them see you Really, Rosemary, you have no ingenuity A number of rather angry replies came into Rosemary s mind at this, but she remembered Napoleon and Charles the Second and swallowed the retorts that came to her lips.The king of the cats was stolen from his great inheritance by a vain and greedy witch Enslaved to her petty treacheries great and small until he is freed at long last by the fulfillment of a prophecy I loved the simplicity of their magic The foretold three qWell, don t let them see you Really, Rosemary, you have no ingenuity A number of rather angry replies came into Rosemary s mind at this, but she remembered Napoleon and Charles the Second and swallowed the retorts that came to her lips.The king of the cats was stolen from his great inheritance by a vain and greedy witch Enslaved to her petty treacheries great and small until he is freed at long last by the fulfillment of a prophecy I loved the simplicity of their magic The foretold three queens are three Queen Victoria farthings It s quirky enough to impress anyone who desperately wants something good to happen but isn t greedy Rosemary was a cool little kid in that way She would have been good to hang out with when you didn t know what to do I always dreaded other kids coming over and invariably put out when my ideas weren t to their taste You wouldn t have to entertain her because she d see the possibility in the thing She takes to Carbonel s plight of freedom to return to his rightful place in that way I loved reading about how she and her new friend, John go about discovering the right steps and tools to get the job done Going to the market and hunting down who bought the witch s hat Inventing clumsy and charming verse for the tattered twig broom It s increasingly sadder when she knows the specialness is coming to an end Maybe going to school and plain old stuff isn t that great It s elusive, staying happy It s damn hard work Rosemary has those moments I know too well of a lucky good mood disappearing and you get mad at yourself for letting it happen when some bitchy girls remind you of how tedious it can be It s going to be sad when John goes home, when school is back on and most of all when they aren t working for something that matters like setting Carbonel free I liked that wistful feeling of it being over before it was all over I liked best of all that acknowledging that kind of feeling was a way of feelingalive about the good thing while it was happening It wouldn t be fair to the cat who takes his place very seriously, either The sky tops of London become star scrapers of if you look the right way, the side of your eye when a tree branch is sinister and a cloudthan A kingdom of alley cats I must say that I appreciated the hearth rug cats weren t turned away by noses in the air It made me happy that the creature comforted beasties got some respect, anyway They ve got to find their own friends amongst themselves and two legged animals The only thing I have a tough time in believing is thatcats aren t kings or queens In their own minds, at least Only ONE cat will fight Carbonel for his kingdom upon his return Only one cat wouldn t take that bullshit of paying taxes to the fat ginger cat who did fancy feast himself the king of the forest of smoke stacks The real world that existed within the every day world of going to work and post office, etc People with noses to grindstones below I feel sometimes like I slip out of worlds when in my head thinking about what I want to think about, and when I m amongst coworkers babbling about their 401ks and divorce settlements of famous athletes Anyway, turning the real useful turned another way is great The cat world slips into doing cat things What do they do when they aren t doing useful cat things like keeping their coats clean, procreating and eating Something wild, probably I can t picture Carbonel wild, though He s one of those cats you wonder what do they get up to.I loved that Rosemary s hardworking mother wasn t overlooked It made me quite upset at first when Rosemary asks her to do some emergency seamstress working for the theatre troupe they wouldn t get the important witch s hat for the freedom spell without it Oh no, her one real day off She admits that she was disappointed to lose that I loved that I can see that she was probably a lot like Rosemary when she was young Her daughter would be trying to live the lost longed for treat in her mind before having to give it up to do the right thing But it all works out because she gets to have the rare job that you like doing Wardrobe mistress for the theatre company Anyway, I thought it was great this relationship between mother and daughter They really did have a cozy life despite being poor Sleigh and reminded me a lot of C.S Lewis in this way goes Oh, you know what it s like sometimes in lieu of describing the fancy fair foods or dinners It s a tradition between them for mother to tell daughter about how the other half live I kind of wished she would have kept in mind future generations who didn t know what it was all about It s a sweet version of the urchin with their nose to the glass when Rosemary and Mrs Brown do it I have watched many travel videos for places I ll never be able to afford to visit I get it I liked reading about the cozy poor food that they do eat, anyway When I was a kid I d love to read that kind of stuff like Matilda finally getting to eat real butter on her toast a fellow margarine consumer It s all in the spirit of liking the street urchin window feeling You don t get to be Carbonel and it feels good wishing you could be like when it s time to go to work.The ending claims that the witch is a reformed dishwasher Well, I know from the plot description of the second book Carbonel and friends have three in all that this isn t true There areways to stick it to the cat who wouldn t break to her will She probably works her sneaking kind of ill meaning mischief in the tea shop, too I can see her requesting any day off that she knew a coworker had their heart set on That would be the sort of thing the old woman would do

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