Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Whittington Book Poster Image
Clever retelling of a legend, from the cat's POV.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Ben has tantrums when he throws books and knocks over furniture.

Violence & Scariness

Some fighting and killing amongst the animals. A young boy fights off robbers with a knife, receiving a scar across his face.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that a young boy is wounded in the face in a knife fight, and a chicken is killed by rats. One character smokes cigars, children in the Middle Ages drink beer, and opium and hashish are mentioned as trade goods.

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What's the story?

Three stories merge together here. The first is about Whittington, a scruffy tomcat, descended from Dick Whittington's legendary cat, who wants to become part of the community in a barn full of animal outcasts kept by the kindly Bernie and his grandchildren, Ben and Abby.


The second is his retelling to the other barn animals and Ben and Abby, of the story of his famous ancestor, Dick Whittington's cat. The story of Dick and his cat, based in reality but told in legends dating back to the early 1600s and recounted in several modern books listed in the Endnote, is a rags-to-riches tale of a poor boy led to fame and fortune by an unusual pet with a knack for killing rats.


The third is about dyslexic Ben's efforts to learn to read before he is held back and placed in Special Ed.

The last two parallel, to a certain extent, as Dick struggles to make his way in the world and Ben struggles with his frustration and fear. Dick is helped by his cat, who steers him to both fortune and love, while Ben is helped by all the barn animals, who convince his sister to set up lessons in the barn, and convince him to try out the Reading Recovery program at school, despite the teasing of his classmates.

Is it any good?

Relationships between human and animal, and between language and story, unite the threads of this rich and deceptively complex novel spanning across six centuries. Kids will enjoy the three interlocking stories here, especially the one that takes place in the 14th century. The retelling of Dick Whittington's legend -- about a boy who finds fame and fortune due to his cat's knack for killing rats -- is thrilling -- and told from a feline point of view. Kids will also be fascinated by the well-researched period details, and it may send some scurrying for more information, especially about Marco Polo.

This gutsy young boy, filled with grit and determination, hearkens back to an earlier era's heroes, such as the boy in Where the Red Fern Grows.. The barnyard scenes will also remind many of Charlotte's Web in their peaceful community of speaking animals (and kids who can join and understand them), as well as in their uneasy, but ultimately mutually beneficial, relationship with the rats.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the original story upon which this is based, and the differences between the reality and the legend. Also, how much of Dick's good fortune was due to the cat, and how much to his own efforts? How does his story parallel Ben's efforts to overcome his dyslexia? Some kids might also be interested in finding out more about the period, and about Marco Polo.

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