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Annotation: Whittington, a feline descendant of Dick Whittington's famous cat of English folklore, appears at a rundown barnyard plagued by rats and restores harmony while telling his ancestor's story.
Catalog Number: #4771447
Format: Paperback
All Formats: Search
Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
Publisher: Random House
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition Date: 2006
Illustrator: Schindler, S. D.,
Pages: 191 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-375-82865-6
ISBN 13: 978-0-375-82865-2
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2004005789
Dimensions: 20 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
So what do you want, Mr. Whittington? A place to live, the cat replies to Lady, the take-charge duck asking the questions, as Whittington attempts to sell his skills as a ratter and all-around useful fellow. Once he does and becomes part of the community of outcast animals who look after one another in softhearted Bernie's old barn, readers will settle in with him for a tale of charming animal bravura. Whittington entertains the group daily with the tale of his ancestor, Dick Whittington's cat, and relates the story of Whittington's fourteenth-century escapades as a rags-to-riches British merchant and far-traveling adventurer. The story works beautifully, both as historical fiction about medieval street life and commerce and as a witty, engaging tale of barnyard camaraderie and survival. A third strand, about Bernie's grandchildren, particularly Ben and his troubles and eventual success with learning to read, seems forced and didactic in what is otherwise a very strong story. Final illustrations not available.
Horn Book
In three entertaining plot strands, Ben and his sister listen in as the titular descendant of Dick Whittington's cat negotiates a truce between the creatures in their grandfather's New England barn. The cat and a duck insist that Ben's sister teach dyslexic Ben to read, with the cat telling tales of his famous ancestor. An endnote/bibliography summarizes what's known of the real and the legendary Dick Whittington.
Kirkus Reviews
Into Bernie's barn, filled with castoff animals he has either actively collected or hasn't the heart to refuse, wanders Whittington the cat, an ugly bruiser of a tom who seeks community. Abby and Ben, Bernie's grandchildren, also seek refuge in the barn; they live with him because their mother is dead and they don't know where their father is. Over the course of seasons, from winter till fall, Whittington tells the story of his namesake, Dick Whittington, and his famous cat. Entwined with Whittington's storytelling is Ben's struggle to learn to read, and the commitment of both humans and animals to his success. The magic that allows Abby and Ben and the animals to talk to each other is understated and assumed, unremarkable. What is remarkable is the compelling quality of both characterization and story. Even as the youthful exploits of the long-dead Lord Mayor of London bring together friend and foe in the barn, the finely drawn characters and the small-scale but no less monumental struggle of Ben to read keep the pages turning. It's a lovely paean to the power of story and the words that carry it along. (Fiction. 8-12)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-This superior novel interweaves animal fantasy and family story with a retelling of the English folktale "Dick Whittington and His Cat." A battered tomcat named Whittington arrives one late-fall day at a New England barn, where he gradually befriends the equally ragtag group of animals already adopted by the barn's taciturn but soft-hearted owner, Bernie. When the year's first big snowstorm traps the bored animals in the barn, Whittington begins telling the story of his namesake, Dick Whittington, to an audience that grows to include Bernie's parentless grandchildren. The feline continues the story as winter grinds on, and the children and animals together absorb Dick's tale of good fortune, which he earned through trust in the advice of his dear friend, a remarkable cat, and his own hard work and struggles. The tale parallels that of Ben, Bernie's grandson, who learns to read once he trusts the advice of his friends and takes extra classes to help him overcome his dyslexia. Graceful prose, engaging human and animal characters, and a deft interweaving of three story lines make this book worthy of comparison to the work of Dick King-Smith and E. B. White. Teachers and librarians looking for a classroom choice to follow Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux (Candlewick, 2003) take note: Whittington reads aloud beautifully, and the extended happy ending will leave everyone smiling in delight.-Beth Wright, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Voice of Youth Advocates
When a battered cat named Whittington arrives at Bernie's barn, he soon proves to be a welcome addition to the motley crew who live there, most notably for his giftedness as a storyteller as well as for the fascinating story that he has to tell. Bernie's grandchildren, Abby and Ben, also fall under the spell of Whittington's marvelous tales. As Ben struggles with his reading, the Lady, a duck who is the unofficial matriarch of the group, arranges for Abby to tutor him every day in the barn. Whenever he shows signs of frustration, she calls upon Whittington to regale them with further installments of his saga. As Whittington tells the story of the man for whom he had been named, Ben wrestles with his reading, and this mismatched collection of creatures continue to quietly support one another through travails big and small. This simple but elegantly written tale will enchant younger readers who will come to love Bernie's barnyard brood as friends. The author adeptly moves between the more modern story of Ben's struggles and the story of the boy named Dick Whittington and his remarkable cat, as told by the feline Whittington. The adventuresome and somewhat exotic nature of Whittington's tale adds more action and drama to the plot, although it never loses the warmth and wit of its barnyard setting. It will find a wide readership in most public and school libraries.-Lisa Doucet.
Word Count: 35,423
Reading Level: 4.9
Interest Level: 4-7
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.9 / points: 5.0 / quiz: 101956 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.6 / points:9.0 / quiz:Q38319
Lexile: 740L
Guided Reading Level: T
Fountas & Pinnell: T
The Man Whittington Named Himself After
Bernie had to leave while he could still get the truck up. The kids wanted to stay. He said okay. Abby had a watch; he’d collect them at three by the highway.

They could hear the storm. The wind sent flakes in through the cracks and the broken-out window up top. Ben shivered. The Lady had the kids pull down fresh hay. It fluffed up and smelled like summer. She made the horses lie down close together and had the kids snuggle next to them. She settled herself on one fluff, Couraggio on another. The bantams made a show of flying up to the rafters and perching where they could look over everything in comfort.

The cat was full of tuna. He wanted to lie down in a warm place too. The Lady told him to get up on the stall railing where everybody could see him.

“Now go on with your story,” she said.

“Story? What story?” the kids chorused.

Whittington shook himself. “This is the story of rats and the cats that hunt them. Rats carry the fleas that carry plague. Plague makes your groin and underarms swell up and your tongue turn black. You get buboes and spots and foam at the mouth and die in agony. It’s called the Black Death.

“Dick Whittington’s cat won him a fortune because she was a rat-hunter. Centuries before they figured out what plague was and how it spread, people knew that a good rat-hunter could save your life.

“The man I’m named for was born about the time the Black Death hacked through England like a filthy knife. By the time he was five years old a quarter of his town was empty. It was a horrible loneliness.

“His family was poor. The soil was thin and ill-tended. There wasn’t enough food. There were no schools. The grandmother who lived with his family taught him to read. The priest had taught her. There were no printed books. She copied out things on scraps of stiffened cloth and scraped animal skins called parchments. She wrote down remedies, recipes, family records, and Bible passages the priest taught her.

“She smelled of the oils, herbs, and mint she used in the remedies she made. She was a midwife and a healer, one of the cunning folk they called her. The priest taught her reading and writing so she could copy recipes for remedies and keep the parish records. Dick gathered simples for her. He had a good eye. That was his work. Other boys his age picked stones from fields, gleaned corn, scared crows, drove geese. If you were idle you didn’t eat.”

“What are simples?” the Lady wanted to know. The kids nodded. They didn’t know either.

“Plants,” the cat said. “They made medicine then from leaves and blossoms, sap, roots. Dick’s grandmother boiled and ground plants into ointments and syrups to heal people.”

“We fowl do that,” the Lady said, looking at Couraggio. “When we’re ill we know what to eat to get better.”
“We do too,” said Abby. “When we’re sick to the stomach Gran makes tea from the mint that grows around and stuff for hurts from tansy, the plant with yellow button flowers.”

“For colds she makes yarrow tonic and rose-hip paste,” said Ben. “She puts honey in the tonic. The rose stuff is bitter.”

“When I’m sick I eat new grass,” the cat said.

“Okay,” said the Lady. “Go on with your story.”

“Dick was always surprised how warm his grandmother was when they sat close together. She read aloud the same things over and over, leading with her finger as she sounded out the letters. What he read to himself at first was what he remembered hearing as he followed her hand. He’d mouth the words as he went along, sounding them out. Not many of his time knew how to read and few of those learned silent reading. He was a mumbling reader all his life.

“One afternoon in the village he saw a gold coin. He’d been loitering around a stout stranger hoping to perform some service and earn a tip when the man went into the baker’s. Dick followed him in and watched as the stranger bought a halfpenny’s worth of bread. The stranger got three round wheat loaves, honey-colored and heavy. He stuffed two into his coat and gave one to the boy. The man fumbled in his purse for a coin. He held it out for Dick to see. It was the size of a fingernail, stamped with a face. It gleamed like nothing Dick had ever seen before. What impressed him almost as much as its gleam was how carefully the baker studied it and weighed it and how many coins he gave in change.

“Then one day outside the inn he overheard a carter telling the men helping him unload barrels of cider that he had heard from a man who had been there that London’s streets were paved with gold and all the people were plump and healthy.

“That night Dick had a dream. He dreamed he went to London and became the stout stranger, filling his purse with the small gleaming rounds of gold that lay like pebbles in the streets. He went to the baker and stuffed his pockets, he went to the inn and was served roast meat and cider. In his dream he was never hungry again. He wore warm clothes and was never cold again either.

“He had heard talk that he was to be put in service to a tanner, a hard man who beat his boys and fed them poorly. Working with hides was a dirty, stinking business. The boys had to scrape off rotting flesh and hair and lift the heavy skins in and out of the tanbark vats. A boy in the tanner’s service had hawked up blood and died. Dick figured he’d better get out on his own pretty quick.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from Whittington by Alan W. Armstrong
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

This Newbery-Honor winning tale introduces Whittington, a roughneck Tom who arrives one day at a barn full of rescued animals and asks for a place there. He spins for the animals—as well as for Ben and Abby, the kids whose grandfather does the rescuing—a yarn about his ancestor, the nameless cat who brought Dick Whittington to the heights of wealth and power in 16th-century England. This is an unforgettable tale about the healing, transcendent power of storytelling, and how learning to read saves one little boy.

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