The Courage of Cat Campbell

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Courage of Cat Campbell Book Poster Image
Appealing tale of would-be witch has laughs, insights.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

One of the characters is French, and her speech includes simple French words and phrases. Several characters are fond of opera, especially Carmen, and readers will pick up a bit of detail on the subject. Kids who like baking will enjoy trying the "spells" in the back of the book -- actually recipes for delicious beverages and baked goods.

Positive Messages

The core message is of courage, determination, and persistence in pursuing your dreams -- and not letting fear or opposition stop you. But there's also a strong message of kindness, paying attention to the needs of others, a love of family, and respect for one another's differences, as well as the need to make things right when you cause harm.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cat sometimes wreaks havoc in her determination to learn witchcraft, but she also has a lot of empathy with her family and friends -- which turns out to be an essential quality. Her BFF Peter is patient, ingenious, and loyal. Her explorer father, absent for much of the story, is a strong influence with his adventurous spirit and desire to improve the world. Mom Poppy opposes Cat's dearest wishes, but she has good reasons from her own experience.

Violence & Scariness

Some characters transform others into strange creatures, and everyone hears about how in the past someone turned her parents and others to stone. Fearsome witch Madeline Reynolds is famous for having destroyed half of Italy in a fit of rage, and everyone expects even worse from her now that she's escaped from prison. There's little long-term harm to the victims of misdirected magic, and it's often Mom to the rescue.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Courage of Cat Campbell is an appealing tale of a late-blooming 11-year-old witch. Sensitive kids may be alarmed by some of the magic gone awry, especially when people are turned to stone, or maybe guinea pigs, but there's no real harm done, and it's often Mom (featured as a child in 2012's The Power of Poppy Pendle) who comes to the rescue. Author Natasha Lowe stresses the importance of following your destiny/bliss but also the need for balancing your passion with skill, discipline, empathy, and kindness. Many kids will relate to Cat's frustration when adults and circumstances keep her from her goals; they'll also relate to some of the problems that result.

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What's the story?

Ever since she was a baby, Cat Campbell desperately hoped she'd inherit her mother's magic gene. Her mother, Poppy, desperately hopes she didn't; Poppy hated magic, doesn't want it in her life, and hopes Cat will follow her path in the family bakery. By the time Cat turns 11, she hasn't shown a bit of magical talent, so she's all but lost hope of joining the glamorous, broomstick-riding young witches-in-training at Ruthersfield Academy. After some surprising events reveal that she does in fact have magical powers, she has a new sense of destiny. Unfortunately, Poppy is set against Cat's planned career -- and it's true that Cat's spells have a way of causing trouble. Which the town doesn't really need at the moment, as a long-imprisoned witch who once destroyed half of Italy is on the loose and bent on revenge.

Is it any good?

Kids determined to pursue a dream and getting a lot of discouragement will relate to Cat's plight as she faces one obstacle after another in her quest for a career in magic. Along the way, there are plenty of "be careful what you wish for" moments, as well-meant attempts at witchcraft cause scenes straight out of The Sorcerer's Apprentice -- which will be hysterically funny to some readers and a bit scary to others. There's a strong message, reinforced in various subplots, about why it's important to pursue your dreams and how nothing but harm will come of giving it up. (Young bakers also will love the recipes at the back of the book, which conveniently include substitutes for magic ingredients.)

As the central characters, Cat and her mom, Poppy (the subject of author Lowe's first book, The Power of Poppy Pendle), are appealing and complex enough to be interesting -- especially as one revelation follows another. Some of the supporting cast are a bit more cartoonish, often serving to advance the plot or add atmosphere. The story offers some interesting discussion points -- not only about pursuing your dreams but about how to handle it when things don't go your way. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why stories about kids with magical powers are so popular. What's the appeal? What are some of your favorites?

  • Do you think you'd like to have magical powers? How would you feel if your spells, like Cat's, didn't turn out the way you planned and it was your friends who suffered?

  • Have you ever been in a position like Cat's, where you really, really want something, but things aren't going your way at all? What happened? How did you deal with it?

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For kids who love magic and coming-of-age tales

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