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Mog the Forgetful Cat written and illustrated by Judith Kerr

Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr, published in 1970, is a book from my childhood. In spite of the fact that I certainly was not deprived of reading material as a child, there are only a handful of books and characrters that really, really stick in my consciousness decades later and Mog was one of them. Maybe it was because Mog looked like my first cat, Tigger, but mostly I think it was because Mog's story and her personality let me know that animals, like children, can be an integral and important part of a family, even when they are messy, break things and require special attention.

Mog is a cat who does cat stuff and Judith Kerr has a simple but entertaining way of capturing that aspect of felineness that, to humans, could be seen a forgetfulness. I think that Mog the Forgetful Cat maybe be one of the first children's books to employ the "annoying pet saves the day just before being given the boot" story lines that are so popular now (Walter the Farting Dog, anyone?) In her first book, Mog is locked out again because she has forgotten about the cat door, despite the fact that that is the very door through which she left the house. Anxious to get back in the house, Mog jumps up in the flower box (smashing the geraniums again) and startles a burglar in the middle of stealing the silver.

My favorite book in the series, Mog and Bunny, is about Mog's beloved toy, which begins to look like a naked mole rat after she chews on it, and all of the inconvenient, unsettling places she leaves it. When bunny is trapped in the garden at the start of a rainstorm Mog refuses to come inside. Unsure as to why she insists on staying outside (what human can really understand a cat??) the Thomas's go inside. In the middle of the night, Debbie and Nicky wake up wondering where Mog is. They head out into the garden and find their soggy cat mewling at her trapped toy. Every one dries off, warms up and has a big sleep. In addition to the spot on presentation of cat attitude and behavior, I love Kerr's cozy domesticity. Her illustrations are simple but sweet and not totally timeless. A bit of the 1970s seeps through now and again, as does a bit of Britishness.

In 2002, Kerr published Goodbye Mog, in which Mog decides it's time to take the long nap. But, part of her hangs around to help the new kitten adjust to life with the Thomas family. There is a lovely obituary/book review by Kate Kellaway in the Guardian newspaper from 2002 and it is the best description of Mog, her personality and her books that you could hope to read, and I find I must quote large chunks of it here. As Kellaway writes of Mog:

Self-pity was Mog's forte: she was a virtuoso at sulking, especially in snow. She enjoyed splendid health but small setbacks alarmed her. A thorn in her paw (Mog and the Vee Ee Tee) once caused her distress, particularly when the vet became involved.
Mog was a dreamer. Her subconscious was dark, hyperactive and populated with marauding wildlife (Mog in the Dark ; Mog's Amazing Birthday Caper). She might have made a subject for Jungian analysis - were it not that she would have been inclined to go to sleep or worse (see Mog's Bad Thing ) on the couch.

Mog had a rather unsettled relationship with food: she was a picky eater, a protester who frequently went on hunger strike, upsetting the Thompsons. She would often say "no" to fish - although her passion for eggs never diminished.

Mog suffered from jealousy (she could be a green-eyed monster) and had difficulty enduring a variety of imposters: a baby, a family of foxes, a cat called Tibbles... ( Mog and the Granny).
And yet her biographer, Judith Kerr, maintains that Mog was both "a good cat" and "a career cat". It is true that her achievements were considerable, not least when it is remembered that they were all accidental. In 1970, she won a medal for surprising a burglar.

In between the first Mog and the last, there are eight other books available in the US and seventeen in total, for you rare book hunters out there.  Mog on Fox Night is another of my favorites in which a family of neighborhood foxes learns how to use the cat flap that so often eludes Mog.

Judith Kerr was born in Berlin, Germany in 1923 and her father, Alfred Kerr, was one of city's the most important drama critics before the whole family was forced to flee the Nazis in 1933 and eventually made a new home in England in 1936. In 1971 she wrote the semi-autobiographical novel for children, When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit. Read annually in schools all over the world, I this book is still on the shelves and remains one of the great works of historical fiction for children set during the Holocaust.

Finally, Candlewick Press has published Kerr's bestselling 1968 book The Tiger Who Came to Tea. A gentle but insistent tiger rings the bell one day at tea time and ends up eating all the food in Sophie's house. When Daddy comes home from work Spohie and her mother tell him the story of the Tiger who came to tea and Daddy has the good idea of going out to a café for dinner. Although fantastical, the story is told in the same straightforward, sweet manner that Kerr employs in her MOG books and is a delight to read out loud.


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