As World War II threatens Australian soil in 1942, a young girl’s world in Sydney is interrupted by the arrival of Ellery, a non-English speaking refugee from “You-rope” – a quiet young lad who keeps to himself, clinging to his book.
Young Columba becomes fascinated by this new arrival, along with the mysterious arrival of a blue cat that vanishes without a trace, only to reappear in the strangest of places. With the help of her know-it-all friend, Hilda, she begins to understand some of the changes happening around her. The conversations she overhears and the half-answers from adults do nothing to make her grow, but the fleeting time she gets to spend with Ellery makes her realise the world is a big and mysterious place.
The Blue Cat is an odd little children’s book aimed at pre-teens. I’m tempted to call it fantasy although there’s nothing particular from that genre until the curious ending that that seems to unexpectedly float off on gossamer wings leaving you wondering if you’d just missed something.
The book can be quite whimsical, particularly as told from Columba’s point of view. It’s an enjoyable, straight-forward plot and Dubosarsky’s characters are all delightful, especially Hilda, whose precociousness is very controlled by the author but, oh, so recognisable!
Interspersed through the book are old photos and clippings which add interest and authenticity to actual events that touch the edges of Columba’s life, such as the bombing of Darwin and water restriction notices. There’s a useful reference at the back detailing each image and clipping.
Young readers should enjoy The Blue Cat immensely and, for families, I expect it to raise a few questions to open up discussion about Australian history, refugees and other important issues.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 8
Released by: Allen & Unwin
Release Date: April 2017