When Barney’s feline fantasy comes true, the fur starts flying in this darkly hilarious and heartwarming tale.
Cats have it made. They laze in sun patches, are showered with affection by loving humans, can cough up hairballs wherever they want, and never have to wonder why their dad disappeared one day and never came back. It’s clearly much easier to be a cat than to be a middle school boy.
So when Barney Willow wishes he could be a cat, and gets his wish, he should be thrilled. Except he’s not. He discovers that not all cats are cute and cuddly, and some of them are downright evil. He discovers that his own mother can’t see past the whiskers to recognize her darling son. Worst of all, he discovers that his life is in grave danger…and he doesn’t have eight lives to spare.
About the Author
Matt Haig is the bestselling author of several children’s books and novels, including The Radleys, winner of the ALA Alex Award. An alumnus of Hull University and Leeds, his work has been translated into twenty-nine languages. He lives in York with his wife, UK novelist Andrea Semple, and their two children.
Stacy Curtis is the illustrator of The 7 Habits of Happy Kids series by Sean Covey. He lives with his wife and dog in Oak Lawn, Illinois.
Read an Excerpt
To Be a Cat
Here is a secret I shouldn’t really tell you, but I will because I just can’t help it. It’s too big. Too good. Okay, sit down, get ready, brace yourself, have some emergency chocolate handy. Squeeze a big cushion. Here it is:
Cats are magic.
Cats. They’re magic.
They have powers you and I can only dream of having.
But even as I tell you this I can see what you are thinking. You’re thinking, No, they don’t, cats are just cute little pets who sleep next to radiators all day long.
To which I would say—that’s just what they want you to think. And now you’re thinking, These are just words in a story written by some author with a boring name, and all authors aren’t to be trusted one bit, because they tell lies for a living.
And you’re a little bit right.
But stories aren’t always lies. They are things stored in all our imaginations—hence the name stories—and it is the author’s job to point them out. And some of the things we imagine are more true than the facts we learn in math, it’s just a different kind of truth to 76 - 15 = 61.
So yes, every cat who ever prowled the earth is capable of doing some very special things. Such as:
1. The ability to understand a thousand different animal languages (including gerbil, antelope, and the ridiculously complicated goldfish).
3. The capability of napping anywhere—laps, kitchen floors, on top of TVs when the theme song to the news is blaring at full volume.
4. Smelling sardines from two miles away.
5. Purring. (Trust me, that is magic.)
6. The ability, via their whiskers, to sense approaching dogs.
7. *****-******* ***-*** *************.
Let’s stop here, at number seven. Okay, one to six seem quite ordinary. You might know cats do some of these things, even if you’ve never understood it as magic before. But if you see magic often enough it starts to look normal. And don’t get me wrong, this is by no means the end of the list. Indeed, the list is so long that it would fill ten whole books the size of this one, and your eyes would be bleeding by the time you got to 9,080,652: “radiator radar.”
But number seven is a good place to stop. This seventh power is the most important one, at least for the tale I am about to tell you. (Although, if you want to read a book about radiator-detecting felines, I highly recommend A. B. Crumb’s exceptional Warmpaws, which is by far the best of its type.)
Also, you might be wondering what *****-******* ***-*** ************* actually is. Well, we’ll get to that. Don’t be too greedy. Though you can’t have enough secrets in one chapter, you know. Not usually. But the truth is number seven is quite a big deal. I had to put asterisks instead of the actual letters because I’ve got to be careful how I tell you this. If I just came out with it right now, you’d either not believe me, or you’d have too much understanding all at once and you wouldn’t understand the hidden dangers.
So don’t worry, I’ll tell you about it in good time. What I will say is that those humans who get to experience it, come to understand its terrible and often deadly effects and certainly never look at a cat in the same way again. One of those poor souls was an unfortunate boy called Barney Willow, and he’s waiting for you on the very next page.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
To Be A Cat is a stand-alone book for young readers by popular British author, Matt Haig. It’s Barney Willow’s twelfth birthday, but it’s hardly what you’d call a happy one. His parents are divorced, and his dad’s been missing, properly missing, since last summer. His mum is sad and a bit manic. He’s constantly picked on, by everyone, from the kids at school, especially that bully Gavin Needle, to the head teacher, Miss Polly Whipmire. He has one good friend, and she’s a girl; she’s not a girlfriend, no. Rissa Fairweather is cool and different and doesn’t care what anyone says about her. By the end of the schoolday, things are about as bad as they can be: Barney’s got a letter to his Mum from Miss Whipmire. It’s his last warning, threatening expulsion next time he does something wrong. Fair enough if he did something wrong, but it’s Gavin who’s getting up to mischief and blaming him. That is, when Miss Whipmire isn’t reprimanding him for the tiniest thing. When he spots a cat on the way home, he fervently wishes they could swap places. Cats have a great life, don’t they? But don’t they say “Be careful what you wish for”? The next morning, Barney wakes up as a cat. Actually, that cat. This causes more problems for him than he had ever dreamed were possible, but it turns out he hasn’t swapped bodies with just any cat. He’s now inhabiting a cat that’s in league with Miss Whipmire, and Miss Whipmire is not quite who or what she seems. While Barney is rescued from Miss Whipmire’s filing cabinet (and certain death) by brave and smart Rissa, that’s not the end of the story, and getting people to understand it’s him is, understandably, near impossible. Young readers (and not so young) will enjoy the hilarious character names, descriptions (which are supplemented in the print version with wonderful illustrations by Stacy Curtis), and the occasional wordplay, as well as a clever plot with an exciting climax. And of course, there’s a worthwhile lesson on self-esteem in there too. This Carnegie Medal Nominee (2013), brilliantly narrated by Chris Pavlo, is a delightful read.
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