Last week we announced that Franny & Toby: The Mystery of the Kidnapped Cat by Tetman Callis is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
Here’s the set-up: It’s a book such as Roald Dahl might have written – suitable for intelligent children, while also containing much to delight their parents.
Franny is one of the rarest of cats, for she is a cat who can read.
She and her brother, Toby, are the new cats on the block. Their “bean” (human “owner”) doesn’t let them go outside at first. When they finally get to go out, they make friends with other animals in the neighborhood: the cats next door (Highlanders Rainbow, Bay, and their TV-addicted brother Moo-Cow, who never comes outside); the cats across the street (Elbee and her three “kits,” Larry, Curly, and Moe, who are from the Southlands and arrived the year before as refugees from the Southie Wars); MacAdam the roadrunner; and Bunny the Free Range Rabbit.
Inventive, magical and exciting, Franny & Toby is that rare story that gently teaches us that friendship and tolerance make our world a better place – and that a little education goes a long way when life becomes an adventure. Also, it has sky-swimmers. Sky-swimmers!
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
A Note from Toby
My sister Franny doesn’t know I’m doing this and she would probably get mad if she found out. She wouldn’t want me to spoil the story you’re about to read.
It’s full of the adventures Franny and I had last year, not long after we moved in to this new house. We made new friends — Curly and Larry and Rainbow and a bunch of others — and we had fun every day.
Then one day, Curly got chased out of the neighborhood by a big stray dog. Franny and I didn’t know what had happened to him or where he was, so we set off on a long trek to find him.We walked all day and most of the night, got in a fight with a pack of rats — we won! — slept on a fire escape, learned about electricity and even got help from our friends the sky-swimmers.
It turned out Curly had been captured by an evil bean who put him in a cage and that’s when things got really exciting — so now, before Franny finds out, I’ll leave the rest of it for you to discover…
The New Cats on the Block
Franny and Toby were the new cats on the block. When they first moved in, their bean (what all cats call the large, two-legged creatures who look after them) wouldn’t let them go outside.
“I don’t want you to go out yet,” the bean said. The bean was not as tall as many of the other beans and had long fur on its head and a high, soft, gentle voice. “We’re new here. I don’t want you to get lost, or get in trouble.”
Franny and Toby sat at the front window of their new home, on the window seat there, looking out at the street. They could understand perfectly well what their bean was saying, though when they spoke, all their bean could hear were meows and purrs and trills. Such was the way with beans. All cats knew them to be mostly kind and goodhearted and capable, if not particularly bright.
“It’s not fair,” Toby said. He was a big cat, a short-haired, light brown tabby with long white legs. (His legs were so long, his bean often called him Toby Tall-Boy.) His voice was high and soft, just like his bean’s only even higher and softer, like a little girl-kitty’s. It was strange to see such a big cat with such a small voice.
“I don’t know,” Franny said, only halfway paying attention to what her brother was saying. He wasn’t her real brother. He was adopted, and didn’t look much more like he could be her real brother than any other cat would have. She was small, with long fur that was mostly brown but had some white patches, for instance on her belly and her face and in a ring around her neck that looked like a white furry collar, and she had a little pink nose. Just like Toby, she had green eyes, but unlike Toby or almost any other cat who has ever lived, she had a little pair of wire-frame reading glasses she wore from time to time, for Franny was one of the rarest of cats — she was a cat who could read.
“You don’t know?” Toby hissed. “I thought you knew everything, the way you’re always reading those book-thingies and magazine-thingies the bean leaves lying around.”
“Oh, Toby, don’t be mad at me,” Franny purred. “I think our bean may be right. Let’s just sit here and look out the window for a while.”
“Look all you like,” Toby said petulantly. “If I see another sky-swimmer go by on the other side of that window and I can’t get to it, I’ll about go crazy.” He jumped down from the window seat and trotted off to the kitchen, his tail twitching with aggravation.
Franny watched him go. She liked her adopted brother, even if he was annoying sometimes. He was a bean-year younger than she was and liked to play “Ambush-Cat,” where he would hide behind a door or in a closet and jump out at her when she went by. While she sometimes enjoyed this game and would play right back with him, other times she just wasn’t in the mood.
Now she was in the mood to look out the window a while and see more of what her new neighborhood looked like. There was a street with houses, that was normal enough. There were gray sidewalks and green lawns and bushes, little flowers and tall trees. There were sky-swimmers of various sizes, flitting about in ones and twos and some of them circling around in large flocks, calling to each other. Some of them had soft, round voices that reminded Franny of sleeping in a favorite chair in the sunlight. Others had sharp little pointy voices that reminded her of walking across a lawn full of dried grass in the winter.
And there were cats! Off to one side, in the front yard of the house next door, Franny saw a little blob of light-gray fur move. She quickly recognized it — a cat, a little larger than she was, but still small. Its fur was long and its ears and tail were darker than the rest of it. She could see that it had blue eyes and a light brown nose. It was headed in the direction of the street.
“Oh, do be careful,” Franny said quietly, though she knew the other cat couldn’t hear her. Her grand old Uncle Zizu, the wise Siberian cat who had taught her to read and seemed to be about a zillion years old, had died when he got run over by a bean driving one of those car-thingies that seemed to be both very useful and very dangerous. Franny cried herself to sleep every night for a week after Uncle Zizu died.
The little light-gray cat stopped at the curb and looked both ways. (“She’s looking for traffic,” Franny thought. “Smart cat.”) Stepping off the curb, the cat started crossing to the other side. Franny saw another cat there, across the street, heading toward the little light-gray cat. This other cat was a large brown and black mackerel tabby with green eyes and a brown nose just a little darker than the little light-gray cat’s. Franny was worried for a moment that there might be a fight about to happen, but the two cats trotted up to each other and gently touched noses.
“Ahh,” Franny said, smiling as only a cat can smile. “Romance.”
Then she saw the most remarkable thing. A brown and white animal, about the same size as the mackerel tabby, came around the corner from one of the houses across the street. It had long ears that folded backwards along its back, a long, round face, dark brown eyes and a little twitchy nose. Its back legs were much longer than its front legs, a little like a bean’s, but it stayed very close to the ground and moved in short little hopping movements. It joined the two cats in the front yard of the house across the street in a game of what looked like “Let’s See What Might Be Here.”
“That’s one of my favorite games,” Franny quietly said.
Then she saw an even more remarkable thing. A sky-swimmer of a kind Franny had never seen before, with a long, straight beak and a flat head, a speckled body and a long, straight tail and large, powerful-looking flat feet, came walking down the street and joined the light-gray cat and the mackerel tabby and that other animal, whatever it was, in their game. Franny watched them and could hardly contain her excitement.
“Toby!” she called. “Toby, come see! We live in a most interesting neighborhood!”
“We can go outside!”
It was two weeks before their bean would let Franny and Toby go outside. The two cats spent long hours in the window seat, watching out the front window at everything that was going on. They saw beans going by in car-thingies (“Not too many,” Franny said. “That’s good, traffic is light, it won’t be terribly dangerous to cross the street.”), and other beans walking down the sidewalk, some in the company of large dogs on long leashes (“Toby,” Franny said, “we must be careful. I can teach you what a Beware of the Dog sign looks like.” “You don’t have to do that,” Toby replied. “I can smell dog from way off.”). They saw all sorts of sky-swimmers: little brown ones, big black ones, and plump medium-sized gray ones (“Oh, I want one, I want one, I want one!” Toby said. “They look delicious!”). They saw more cats, including two black ones and a slate-gray one who looked like they were living across the street with the mackerel tabby. They also saw the little light-gray one from next door again, the one with dark ears and tail, and they saw another one there who was a little darker but looked for all the world like it must be a brother or a sister to the light-gray one. And this darker one seemed to be a singer.
“Did you hear singing?” Franny asked Toby while he was giving himself a bath one afternoon on the window seat.
“I’m not sure what I was hearing,” he said, pulling at a knotted tuft of fur between the toes of one of his front paws.
“It seemed to be coming from one of those cats next door,” Franny said. “I looked in one of the bean’s books and I found out that the little light-gray cat with the dark ears and tail is called a ‘blue-point,’ while the one that’s a little darker is called a ‘chocolate-point.’”
“So what?” Toby said. He couldn’t get the knot out of his fur and it was beginning to annoy him.
“So now we know something we didn’t know,” Franny said. “That’s what.”
“Makes no difference to me what those cats’ points are called,” Toby said as he gave up on the knot and started cleaning the claws on his hind feet. “Did you find out anything about those weird animals we saw?”
“A little bit,” Franny said. “I found out that the one with the long ears is called a rabbit. It’s sort of like a big mouse.”
“Mouse?” Toby said, looking up sharply from his cleaning. “You said ‘mouse’? I want me a mouse! I haven’t had a mouse since last summer!”
“Well, it’s not really a mouse,” Franny said. “It’s like a mouse, only a lot bigger.”
“Oh, a mouse a mouse a mouse, I wants a mouse a mouse a mouse, oh, a mouse a mouse a mouse, chomp-chomp, crunch-crunch!” Toby sang.
“It’s not really a mouse, I told you,” Franny said. “And anyway, you can’t eat all the neighbors. It’s bad manners.”
“I won’t eat them all,” Toby said. “With the other cats I’ll play ‘Ambush-Cat.’”
“Be sure you ask them first if they want to play.”
“Ah, Franny, that’s no fun. You know it’s better if I surprise them. Otherwise, it’s not really ‘Ambush-Cat.’”
Franny couldn’t argue with that, so she didn’t even try. It looked like a beautiful day outside.
“Say, what about that other animal?” Toby said, combing his tail with his tongue. “The one that looks for all the world like a sky-swimmer, but it runs around in the street — did you learn anything about it?”
“No,” she said, “I didn’t. I looked at all the books and magazines I could, but I couldn’t find out what it was. And I watched what the bean was looking at on the computer-thingie, but I never saw anything about that odd sky-swimmer.”
“I’m surprised that as smart as you are, Franny, with all the reading that you do, you’ve never learned how to work that computer-thingie,” Toby said with a mean twist to his voice. It wasn’t the first time he’d been mean to his sister about her reading. The truth was, he was sometimes quite envious of her ability to read. While she didn’t hold it over him and act all superior about it, like she thought she was special or something, he knew she was special — after all, how many cats can read?
“Toby, I know how it works, I just can’t do it,” Franny said, suddenly so upset she thought she might hiss at him or even cry. “You know why, I told you — the computer-thingie has buttons that you have to have fingers or thumbs to press, and all I have is paws.”
Most of the time Toby didn’t care if he upset his sister or not, but this time he felt a little bad for her, so he said, “And it has that thing the bean calls a mouse. Remember when you told me that thing was called a mouse? And I said, ‘Mouse? Mouse? Where? Up there on the desk? Right up there? Mouse!’ And I started running around in circles, I was so excited. Then you started laughing and said, ‘Oh, Toby, it’s not a real mouse. That’s just what the beans call it.’ That made me so mad, I hopped sideways across the floor until I banged backwards into the wall, then sat right down and gave myself a bath.”
“I remember,” Franny said.
Toby could see she was smiling now. He said, “I’m going to go ask the bean if we can please please please go outside.”
“For the umpteenth time today,” Franny said.
“For the umpteenth time today,” Toby agreed, and he jumped down from the window seat and scampered off to find the bean.
Franny looked out the window for a minute or two. “I’d love to go out and meet those cats and those other animals and play ‘Let’s See What Might Be Here’ or any other fun game,” she said quietly. “Oh, well. Might as well give myself a bath.” She was intently combing down the long fur on one of her shoulders when she heard Toby come galloping across the floor.
“The bean says, ‘Yes’! The bean says, ‘Yes!’ We can go outside, Franny! We can go outside!”
Rainbow and The Duchess
It was a warm, sunny day. The bean told Franny and Toby, “Now, you two be careful. Don’t wander too far from home, and please stay out of the street,” then the bean opened the front door. Toby was so excited he was practically bouncing up and down on his long legs like a bean on a trampoline. Soon as the door was open wide enough, he shot out through the doorway like a dog was chasing him.
“Toby Tall-Boy! Be careful,” the bean said. “And you, too, Franny.”
Franny rubbed against the bean’s legs and said, “Thank you, bean. Thank you so much. I’ll be careful, and I’ll look out for Toby,” though of course all the bean heard were gentle meows and trills.
As soon as Franny was outside, she looked all around, inspecting the porch she was on, the yard in front of the house, the street and the other houses, all the flowers and bushes and trees, the white clouds in the blue sky, and the sky-swimmers flitting and whirling overhead. She pointed her pointy ears this way and that, hearing the things that only cats can hear, such as the rustle of leaves in a yard three houses over, the scurry of insects under the porch, the flight-path instructions the sky-swimmers call out to each other, and the secrets the snails tell in their low, quiet voices. She sniffed the air with her little pink nose, breathing in all the neighborhood’s smells, the blooming flowers, the wet lawns from where the beans had watered, all the smells of all the cats and dogs and beans — so many, and each with its own special something that made it different from all the others. She felt the gentle breeze in her long, white whiskers, those little antennae that can help a cat know what’s around it even in the darkest dark.
“I wonder where that brother of mine has gone,” she said. She could smell him out there somewhere, but she couldn’t see or hear him. She thought she might have more of a look around, maybe see what was in the back yard or in the crawlspace under the house or up on the roof if she could find a way up there, when she heard a noise coming from next door. She looked and saw that little long-haired blue-point cat she’d seen before. It was up on its front porch, just sitting down to begin a bath.
“Time to start making friends,” Franny said, and she jumped down off her porch and trotted over to meet her neighbor.
But it wasn’t to be quite that easy right at the start. The blue-point heard Franny coming and sprang into a defensive crouch, ears back and fur bristling (as much as fur that was so long could be said to bristle).
“Stop right there!” the blue-point hissed. “Who are you and what do you want?”
Franny stopped. She had seen this happen countless times before and wondered why a couple of cats who were meeting for the first time couldn’t just swish their tails around and say hello.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Franny. I’m your new next-door neighbor. My brother Toby and I moved in a couple weeks ago. Our bean just let us out for the first time this morning. I thought I’d drop by and say hello.”
“Yes, I’ve seen you,” the blue-point said. “You and your brother both — Toby, you say? — sitting on the other side of your window, staring out at everyone. I wondered if you were stuck-up or if you were under house arrest or something.”
“No, we weren’t any of those things,” Franny said, “though ‘house arrest’ is close. Our bean wanted to wait and make sure we’d be safe.”
“Of course you’d be safe,” the blue-point said snappishly. “This is a good neighborhood, everybody says so. A little bit of traffic on the street, and more dogs than I care for, but even one dog is more dogs than any self-respecting cat would care for unless it’s the right kind of dog and knows its proper place.”
“Oh, I agree,” Franny said. “Dogs can be so troublesome, always shouting the way they do, and never giving themselves baths. I wonder sometimes what the beans see in them, but I have read they’ve been friends a very long time.”
“You have what?” the blue-point said. The pattern of fur on its face made it look like it was frowning or angry all the time. “You say you have read? You can read? You’re a cat who can read?”
“Well, yes,” Franny said. “My Uncle Zizu taught me and — ”
“Well, I never,” the blue-point said. “Wait until my sister hears. Bay!” the blue-point called. “Duchess Bay! Come meet — what did you say your name was?”
“Franny. Lovely name. I’m Princess Rainbow, but you can call me Rainbow for short. Delighted to meet you.” Rainbow turned and called again, “Bay! Duchess Bay! Come meet Franny, our new neighbor! She can read! Oh, what a joy,” Rainbow said, her serious face getting as close to a smile as it could get. “Just wait till MacAdam hears. He can read, too. You and he will have so much to talk about.”
“MacAdam?” Franny said. “Is he your brother?”
“Oh, no,” Rainbow said. “I do have a brother, but he is not MacAdam. My brother is Moo-Cow, who is, as MacAdam puts it, ‘a cat of unusual size.’ You will like MacAdam. I will wager you have never met anyone quite like him. Now, where is that sister of mine? Bay! Duchess Bay! Come meet our new neighbor!”
Franny and Rainbow waited on the porch.
“Well, while we’re waiting,” Rainbow said, “might as well do some more combing of the fur. My bean calls me ‘Princess’ because of my long silky fur, but if you ask me, this stuff is a royal pain. Know what I mean?”
“Yes, I do,” Franny said. “I have the same kind. It gets clumps and knots that take me forever to get out.”
“Exactly. Mine, too. Then my bean takes a brush and thinks to brush my coat herself, but I take off running and hide under the house when she tries to do that,” Rainbow said, scratching her ear a moment. “I know she means well, but it hurts like the dickens. Does yours do that?”
“No,” Franny said. “Mine has a little pair of snub-nosed scissors she uses sometimes. It hurts a little if she pulls the fur wrong, but it’s not too bad.”
The two new friends sat together for a few minutes, all conversation put aside while they combed themselves. Shortly, there was a stirring behind a little cat-sized doorway in the larger main door.
“Here comes the Duchess,” Rainbow said, “out through the cat-hatch.”
The little door opened as a cat the same size as Rainbow pushed its way through. It was the cat Franny and Toby had seen while they spent long days watching from the window seat, the cat with dark ears and tail just like Rainbow’s, only darker and touched with brown. Its paws were white under black leggings, its face was dark and its nose black, it had a brilliant white patch on its chin, and its eyes were deep blue, like the highest point in the sky before dawn. They were also crossed, which Franny had read about but had never actually seen before. She thought it was possibly the most beautiful cat she had ever seen, even with the crossed eyes.
“Hi,” she said nervously.
“Hello,” came the reply. This cat’s voice was strong and mellifluous, as though it were singing a song.
“Duchess Bay, I’d like you to meet Franny, our new neighbor,” Rainbow said. “Franny, this is my sister, Duchess Bay. Our bean calls her ‘Duchess Bay the Beautiful.’”
“Oh, I can see why,” Franny purred. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful cat.” Quickly realizing she may have insulted Rainbow, she stammered, “I — I mean, Rainbow, you’re pretty — you’re very pretty, too — ”
“That is quite all right,” Rainbow purred in return. “I understand. There is no one who looks quite like Duchess Bay.”
“Would that I could take the credit myself,” the Duchess said in her low, sweet voice. “But I was born this way. And surely you have noticed that my eyes are crossed.”
“Why, yes,” Franny said, “but Duchess Bay, I would never — ”
“Think nothing of it,” the Duchess said. “I know others will talk. For instance, my sister’s boyfriend and his family, ne’er-do-wells that they are.”
“Hey!” Rainbow said, a little hint of a growl in her voice. “You watch what you say about Larry! He’s a good cat. It’s not his fault his brother and sister are crazy and their mom’s a catnip addict. They’re Southies, they’re not Highlanders like us.”
“Southies?” Franny said.
“Yes,” Rainbow said. “I can explain it to you later, but first, let’s go play. We can go get Larry, and maybe the Free Range Rabbit will come over. And it would be great if MacAdam came by. I so want you to meet him. Come on, Franny,” Rainbow jumped down off the porch into the yard.
“Um,” Franny said, glancing at Bay, “what about the Duchess?”
“Oh, that’s all right, dear,” Duchess Bay said. “I don’t go in much for play. Don’t see so well, you know. I much prefer to sit up on the roof, in the shade of a tree, and sing myself a little song.”
“Yes,” Franny said, “I’ve heard you singing.”
“She sings the blues,” Rainbow said. “Constantly.”
“Nobody knows the trouble I seen … ,” the Duchess began singing.
“Of course nobody knows,” Rainbow cut in. “You’re cross-eyed — you see double trouble.”
“Sister!” Duchess Bay said, twitching her tail in anger. “Sometimes you are so cruel to me. Your own litter-mate, your flesh and blood.” With that, the Duchess scampered up the trunk of a mulberry tree beside the porch and onto the roof of the house. Later, while Franny and Rainbow and the others played, they could hear her singing, her sad and beautiful voice carrying out across the neighborhood.
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