JOSH’S FAMILY IS used to changes—but now they are hurtling into even more. Although Josh has always had an affinity with animals, it’s his younger brother Jamie who falls under the all-pervading wild cat spell.

“Leo” seems to have taken over Jamie’s life. He eats when and what he wants, speaks only when he needs to. Soon it becomes impossible for the family to cope with his frightening, unpredictable behavior. Only Josh understands his brother’s moods, but is he brave enough to break through Jamie’s unhappy mask,...

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JOSH’S FAMILY IS used to changes—but now they are hurtling into even more. Although Josh has always had an affinity with animals, it’s his younger brother Jamie who falls under the all-pervading wild cat spell.

“Leo” seems to have taken over Jamie’s life. He eats when and what he wants, speaks only when he needs to. Soon it becomes impossible for the family to cope with his frightening, unpredictable behavior. Only Josh understands his brother’s moods, but is he brave enough to break through Jamie’s unhappy mask, and save them all?

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
From the winner of the Costa Award (formerly the Whitbread Prize) here is an intriguing middle grade novel about family relationships. Josh and Jamie are the Js, and their lives have already been changed by their parents' divorce, Mum's remarriage, and the birth of a little J, Jennie. Now Kim and her obnoxious son Kevin are going to move in with Dad, and even more change is on the horizon. Josh is coping, drawing and writing about lions in his hand-made Book of Cats, when he and Jamie spend some time with their father during the week between Christmas and New Year. A visit to the zoo and a face-to-face encounter with a lion seem to have a terrifying effect on Jamie. "But next day he saw the lion. And the lion saw him." Jamie begins to wear a lion mask he has made in school, and will only speak when he has it on, a story turn that successfully blends the everyday and the bizarre. Josh, who is the first person narrator, does his best to help Jamie, but Jamie's behavior gets progressively more incomprehensible, in ways that somehow subtly evoke normal fantasy play gone haywire. Many of Josh's journal entries, like the one featuring the constellation Leo, add visual interest and meaning to the text, although some others seem less well placed. Newbery keeps her readers on edge as Josh's best efforts backfire. The link between Josh's feline obsession and Jamie's plunge into emotional distress is both fascinating and deftly crafted. Jamie's action, that pitches the story to its climax, is perfectly timed, although the denouement that follows seems overly tidy. Catcall stays achingly true to its young narrator's view of the world, tapping not only the fears and longings ofchildhood but also its characteristic eccentricities. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal

Gr 4-9

Writing in the voice of a smart, sensitive 13-year-old boy, Newbery tells the story of a blended family whose members share a sense of love and purpose that carries them through difficult times. The birth of a new baby is a happy occasion and the Bowmans, or, as they like to call themselves, the Bowpersons, rejoice when baby Jennie joins her half brothers, Jamie and Josh. Both boys experience angst over the attention being paid to her; for Josh, the feelings are normal and easily superseded by his love for his sister. However, for Jamie, the addition of Jennie to his home with his mother and stepfather, combined with the announcement that his father and his girlfriend and her son are moving in together, pushes him into selective mutism. As the story unfolds, Josh's well-developed voice evokes the love he and Jamie feel from all three parents, while expressing the feelings of children and teens when they have to deal with changing families. Throughout, Josh's fascination with cats large and small, tame and wild, is developed through his inserts of facts and drawings in his "Book of Cats." In addition to the likable characters, the story provides an example of people working through problems without yelling or abuse. It is refreshing to read about this loving family, reminiscent of those created by Madeleine L'Engle.-Wendy Smith-D'Arezzo, Loyola College, Baltimore, MD

Kirkus Reviews

An eerie psychological tension drives this unsettling account of two brothers challenged by the ever-evolving nature of their family. Josh and his younger brother Jamie have been through a lot of changes. Although their divorced parents have maintained a friendly relationship and work hard to respect and reassure both boys, that doesn't change the fact that their worlds have been turned upside down, most recently by the birth of their half sister. On a trip to a wildlife park, Jamie undergoes a strange experience in which he believes a lion has communicated with him, and thereafter his behavior takes a turn for the bizarre. Josh, while coping with his own feelings of displacement, puzzles over how to help him. Jamie's odd conversion is chilling, and Newbery crafts a compelling picture of this loving family while deftly avoiding melodrama. However, the ending feels hasty, and though a scrapbook about cats maintained by Josh is central to the story, the inclusion of excerpts disrupts rather than enhances the narrative flow. (Fiction. 10 & up)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375891526
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 10/14/2008
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • File size: 765 KB

Meet the Author

Linda Newbery is the acclaimed author of Sisterland, The Shell House, At the Firefly Gate, Lost Boy, and Set in Stone, for which she won the 2006 Costa Award. She lives in Northamptonshire, England.
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Read an Excerpt


We'd always been the two Js, me and Jamie. Dad started that, ages ago when we were all together. 'How's my two Js?' he used to say, when he got in from work. But then Mum married Mike, and soon there was the new baby, making us the three Js - Josh, Jamie and Jennie.

Jamie and I were at the hospital, and we saw Jennie when she was about ten minutes old.

'Come and meet Jennie,' said Mike, all proud and beaming. Mum had done this before, but he hadn't. He was being a dad for the very first time.

Mum was sitting up in bed, holding this tiny pink thing with a screwed-up face. We both peered at it. At her. She looked too little to have a name at all. I didn't know how to behave. Jamie went, 'Uhhhh,' and when I tried to speak, what came out was - 'Whooowhh!' We just knew we had to whisper. It seemed wrong to talk loudly near such a small new thing. It seemed amazing that she even knew how to breathe.
'Your brand new sister,' Mike said, reaching out to touch her hand with one finger. 'Jennie. Little J.' Against the miniature baby hand, Mike's finger looked as big as a tree-trunk, and a bit grimy. He wasn't really grimy because he always showers as soon as he gets home, and comes out smelling like a peppermint, but doing all that outdoor work makes his hands rough.

'But I'm Little J,' said Jamie.

'Middle J now, Jamie,' Mum told him. 'You've been promoted.'

'The Three Js,' I said, quite liking it - it reminded me of the Three Musketeers, or the Three Amigos. But Jamie made a sulky face, pushing out his bottom lip.

Jennie was three days early. She was supposed to be born on December 25th. It'd be bad luck to have your birthday on Christmas Day, if you ask me - I bet you'd only get one lot of presents. But, as it turned out, Mum brought her home the day before Christmas Eve. Jamie and I decorated the tree, and Mum said it was the best ever. Nan stayed with us, to help Mum and Mike, even though Mike loves cooking and made Christmas dinner all by himself: turkey, gravy, pudding, the lot, and all Nan needed to do was set the table and put out the crackers and candles and holly decorations, and I helped with that.

Usually at Christmas we went to stay with Gran and Grandad Bryce in Bedford, but it was different this year because of Jennie. Lots of things were different.
We'd opened our presents as soon as we got up, but at tea-time we had little extra things from the tree - chocolate oranges or chocolate snails or chocolate money. Mum used to pretend it was the tree itself that had chosen these things and wrapped them up with our names on, and I think Jamie had only just stopped believing it. With my mouth full, I said, 'We haven't got Jennie a present! None of us did.'

'We didn't know she'd be here,' said Mum. 'And she's given us a present, a special one. Herself.'

'Littlest J,' Nan said. 'Our little treasure. Our best Christmas present ever.' She lifted Jennie out of Mum's arms and started talking to her in a funny cooing voice.
'You shouldn't have done it,' Jamie said. He'd twisted his shiny green chocolate wrapper into a snake, and twined it round his little finger. Everyone looked at him, and he stared back, startled, as if he'd surprised himself. 'Given her a name that starts with J,' he said.

'Why not, Jamie?' asked Mum.

‘Cos Js are us,' said Jamie. 'Me and Josh.'

'Js are us?' Mike repeated. 'Sounds like a shop - Jays-R-Us!'

I laughed, but Jamie wouldn't. 'It's what Dad calls us,' he said. 'His two Js. Jennie isn't Dad's. She belongs to Mike.'

For the first time, I realised that Mike will be Dad to Jennie, when she learns to talk. Jamie and I don't call him that, because we've got a dad of our own. Dad's Dad, and Mike's Mike.

'She belongs to herself, Jamie,' Mum said. 'Or perhaps to all of us.'

Jamie gazed at her, then at the baby. 'Does she belong to me?' he asked.

'We belong to ourselves, and we belong to each other,' Mum said. 'All of us. That's a nice way of thinking about it.'

Mike's good at drawing, specially cartoons. Mum had tacked some of his pictures on the cork-board in the kitchen. He'd done Jamie eating porridge, going at it like a JCB digger, elbows out, sploshing gloop everywhere. He'd done Mum watering her potted plants, and he drew the kitchen windowsill to look like an Amazon rainforest. He'd done me reading a book, leaning over it as if I wanted to dive right in. And he'd done Splodge, our cat, sitting up to wash his tummy, like a big fat panda.

By bedtime on Christmas Day, Mike had done two new sketches. One was called Jays-R-Us, and it showed a shop-front, with two big birds perched on top. They were meant to be jays, Mike explained, with their beady eyes and strong beaks and claws. Course, I knew that, only he hadn't coloured them pink, but used ordinary pencil. In the shop window there were all sorts of things a bird might want - peanut feeders, and nesting boxes, and a dish full of wriggling worms.

The other one was called Js are Us. He'd drawn the three Js going up in height, like a graph. First the baby, on the ground, wrapped up in a cloth with only her face showing, like baby Jesus in a nativity play. Next came Jamie, standing proudly with his chest pushed out. Then me, tall and lanky in my Chelsea shirt. Underneath us, Mike had written Littlest J, Middle J, and Biggest J.

So I'd been promoted, too - from Big J to Biggest J. I liked it, and I didn't like it. Liked it, because it made me feel grown-up and important. Didn't like it, because it made me feel responsible. That was all right, if it was only when I wanted. I didn't think I could be responsible all the time.

Mum liked the two cartoons. Next morning they were pinned up on the kitchen cork-board.

From the Hardcover edition.

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