The Fat Cat: A Tragic Lesson in Greed and Overindulgence

“I ate the gruel and I ate the pot, too. And now I am going to also eat YOU.”

The cover of the book The Fat Cat by Jack Kent“Greedy folk have long arms,” posits the old English proverb. That’s the figurative and disturbing truth presented in The Fat Cat (public library), a children’s book by author and illustrator Jack Kent about a greedy cat with an insatiable appetite. Based on a Danish folktale, Kent’s book follows the cat’s wholly unforgettable journey as he consumes everything and everyone in his path. It’s an engrossing experience for children and adults alike.

The story starts in an old woman’s house. The cat, curled up on the chair, watches a pot of gruel for the old woman while she runs an errand. From there, things get progressively stranger.

There was once an old woman who was cooking some gruel. She had some business with a neighbor woman and asked the cat if he would look after the gruel while she was gone. ‘I’ll be glad to,’ said the cat.

But when the old woman had gone, the gruel looked so good that the cat ate it all. And the pot, too.

When the old woman came back, she said to the cat, ‘Now what has happened to the gruel?’

‘Oh,’ said the cat, ‘I ate the gruel and I ate the pot, too. And now I am going to also eat YOU.’ And he ate the old woman.

Artwork from the book The Fat Cat by Jack Kent

Artwork from the book The Fat Cat by Jack Kent

Artwork from the book The Fat Cat by Jack Kent

After eating the old woman, the cat leaves the house and starts walking around. He meets a number of neighbors and animals and devours them all. Suffice it to say that The Fat Cat is hilarious and slightly morbid at the same time. The events certainly capture and hold children’s attention!

Later he met seven girls dancing. And they, too, said to him, ‘Gracious! What have you been eating, my little cat? You are so fat.’

And the cat said, ‘I ate the gruel and the pot and the old woman, too, and Skohottentot and Skolinkenlot and five birds in a flock. And now I am going to also eat YOU.’

And he ate the seven girls dancing.

Artwork from the book The Fat Cat by Jack Kent

Artwork from the book The Fat Cat by Jack Kent

Eventually the cat meets a woodcutter with an ax. The man cuts open the cat and saves the lives of everyone who had been eaten by the cat. The old woman takes her gruel and hurries home. On the last page of the story, the cat is shown looking dazed and confused while the woodcutter tapes his wound.

Artwork from the book The Fat Cat by Jack Kent

Artwork from the book The Fat Cat by Jack Kent

Artwork from the book The Fat Cat by Jack Kent

The story’s apparent lesson — that greed and overindulgence can adversely affect you and those around you — is similar to the advice that Joseph Wood Krutch delivered to young adults in a commencement speech at the University of Arizona:

You may think that personal integrity and self-respect are not what you want more than anything else. You may say to yourself that putting them first would make it too difficult to get along in the world and that you want to get along in the world; that you would rather have money, power and fame than personal self-satisfaction. You may even say that you want money, power and fame so that you can ‘do good in the world.’ But if you do say any of these things, you will be making an unwise choice. You will be surrendering something which cannot be taken away from you to gain something which can be taken away from you and which, as a matter of fact, very often is.

The Fat Cat is a timeless story, one that teaches children about the dangers of greed and overindulgence. Sadly, the book is currently out of print, but those lucky enough to find this book used will undoubtedly enjoy it for years to come. Complement with Rude Cakesa hilarious children’s book that uses humor to talk about bad behavior, and Gossie, a story about a gosling who likes to wear bright red boots.

Doctor De Soto: The Classic Story About a Mouse Who Outfoxes a Fox

No good deed goes unpunished in this ironic children’s book about a mouse dentist who takes pity on a fox with a horrible toothache.

The cover of the book Doctor De Soto by William Steig“Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety,” wrote William Shakespeare in Hamlet. Shakespeare’s musing implies that finding safety in danger is no easy task, whether in life or in fiction. But author and illustrator William Steig (November 14, 1907 – October 3, 2003) was no stranger to danger — or irony. According to his obituary in The Guardian, “his view of the world is summed up by an anecdote he used to tell of the time, during a summer job as a lifeguard, when he saved a woman from drowning — and was given a dollar tip.”

That no good deed goes unpunished is the ironic theme central to Doctor De Soto (public library), Steig’s children’s book about a mouse dentist who takes pity on a fox with a horrible toothache. While fixing the fox’s toothache, the dentist realizes his life will be in danger when the fox returns the next day. To save himself, Doctor De Soto must find a way to outwit the fox. It’s a brilliant story that uses danger to great effect — something that’s exceedingly rare in modern children’s literature.

The book makes clever use of animals as characters. Being a mouse, Doctor De Soto is an efficient dentist for larger animals, but he’s also a target for cats and other animals that eat mice. His sign says that he refuses to work on any “dangerous animals.”

Doctor De Soto, the dentist, did very good work, so he had no end of patients. Those close to his own size — moles, chipmunks, et cetera — sat in the regular dentist’s chair. Larger animals sat on the floor, while Doctor De Soto stood on a ladder.

For extra-large animals, he had a special room. There Doctor De Soto was hoisted up to the patient’s mouth by his assistant, who also happened to be his wife.

Being a mouse, he refused to treat animals dangerous to mice, and it said so on his sign. When the doorbell rang, he and his wife would look out the window. They wouldn’t admit even the most timid-looking cat.

Artwork from the book Doctor De Soto

Artwork from the book Doctor De Soto

But one day a fox with a severe toothache shows up. Doctor De Soto and his wife take pity on the suffering animal and let him in. That’s when the trouble starts.

One day, when they looked out, they saw a well-dressed fox with a flannel bandage around his jaw. ‘I cannot treat you, sir!’ Doctor De Soto shouted. ‘Sir! Haven’t you read my sign?’

‘Please!’ the fox wailed. ‘Have mercy, I’m suffering!’ And he wept so bitterly it was pitiful to see.

‘Just a moment,’ said Doctor De Soto. ‘That poor fox,’ he whispered to his wife. ‘What shall we do?’

‘Let’s risk it,’ said Mrs. De Soto. She pressed the buzzer and let the fox in.

Artwork from the book Doctor De Soto

Artwork from the book Doctor De Soto by William Steig

The first sign of trouble is when the fox is given gas for his pain. He starts dreaming aloud about eating Doctor De Soto and his wife.

‘I’m giving you gas now,’ said Doctor De Soto. ‘You won’t feel a thing when I yank that tooth.’

Soon the fox was in dreamland. ‘M-m-m, yummy,’ he mumbled. ‘How I love them raw… with a pinch of salt, and a… dry… white wine.’

Artwork from the book Doctor De Soto by William Steig

Artwork from the book Doctor De Soto by William Steig

After pulling the tooth, Doctor De Soto tells the fox to return the next day so they can install the new tooth in his mouth. On the way out, the fox wonders to himself whether he should eat the mice, and the De Sotos conclude that they need to come up with a plan to outwit the fox when he returns the next day.

The next day, after installing the tooth, Doctor De Soto tricks the fox into applying a “remarkable preparation” on his teeth that allegedly will remove all of the fox’s future pain. The preparation is actually glue, and the fox’s mouth is sealed shut tight “for a day or two.” The story ends with the fox stumbling out of the office, dumbfounded.

First published in 1982, Doctor De Soto is a wonderful Newbery Honor Book that’s still in print, delighting children everywhere. Complement with The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, a story about an imaginary friend who is overlooked by children again and again, then revisit Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, a wonderful children’s book about a Christmas tree that’s just a little too tall.

Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot Inspires Kids to Fight For Causes They Believe In

An unforgettable story about pursuing justice with reckless abandon in the face of overwhelming odds.

The cover of Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off,” Ray Bradbury once said in an interview. “Build your wings on the way down.” That bold advice could serve as an apt metaphor for Hoot (public library), Carl Hiaasen’s novel for young adults. It’s a hilarious coming of age story, and a rollercoaster of a ride that readers won’t soon forget.

The story centers around the burrowing owl, an endangered species that happens to live on a plot of land that’s soon to become a construction site. A popular pancake chain is preparing to break ground and start building its 469th restaurant on that very spot in Coconut Cove, Florida. The story’s young heroes — Roy, Beatrice, and Beatrice’s step-brother, a homeless boy known as “Mullet Fingers” — work together to stop the construction and save the owls.

Combining all the hallmarks of modern society together with elegance and humor, Hiaasen’s book is a masterpiece that keeps readers in suspense to the end. It’s all here — corporate greed and corruption, environmental destruction, teenage malaise, boneheaded bullies, and ecoterrorism.

At its core, Hoot is a story about middle school students standing up for what they believe in. In the face of overwhelming odds and paralyzing moral dilemmas, the story’s heroes stay true to their hearts. They pursue justice with reckless abandon, doing whatever it takes to achieve their goal. The heroes lie to authority figures, vandalize construction equipment, evade police officers, and entrap bullies.

Burrowing Owl in Florida
A burrowing owl (Photograph: Bryan Jones)

The entire book is — dare we say — antithetical to societal values. That’s not a bad thing. Saving owls is a noble cause, and Hiaasen’s style brings comic relief to issues that aren’t a laughing matter. Readers will find themselves empathizing and even identifying with the characters. You can’t help rooting for them. The narrative is enthralling; the heroes’ cunning plans and illicit actions are downright exhilarating.

The character known as Mullet Fingers — so named because he can catch a mullet fish with his bare hands — has lived in Florida his entire life, and he’s sick of watching it disappear.

‘Ever since I was little,’ Mullet Fingers said, ‘I’ve been watchin’ this place disappear — the piney woods, the scrub, the creeks, the glades. Even the beaches, man — they put up all these giant hotels and only goober tourists are allowed. It really sucks.’

Roy said, ‘Same thing happens everywhere.’

‘Doesn’t mean you don’t fight back.’

And fight back they do. From flattening the tires of a flatbed truck to notifying reporters that the environmental impact statement is missing from the city’s records, the underdog heroes pull out all the stops to halt construction. They declare all-out war against the overwhelming forces of capitalism that have converged on the tiny plot in Coconut Cove.

Florida's everglades
Florida’s everglades (Photograph: Jesse Michael Nix)

But the characters also hit some moral conundrums along the way. For Roy especially, the war between his heart and mind never seems to stop. He wants to save the owls, but he doesn’t want to resort to vandalism to do it. The careful dilberations between right and wrong are some of the best parts of the story. Eventually, Roy finds a middle ground.

Roy sat cross-legged on the floor, gazing up at the cowboy poster from the Livingston rodeo. He wished he was as brave as a champion bull rider, but he wasn’t.

The Mother Paula’s mission was simply too risky; somebody, or something, would be waiting. The attack dogs might be gone, but the company wasn’t about to leave the new pancake-house location unguarded for long.

In addition to a fear of getting caught, Roy had serious qualms about trying anything illegal — and there was no dodging the fact that vandalism was a crime, however noble the cause.

Yet he couldn’t stop thinking ahead to the day when the owl dens would be destroyed by bulldozers. He could picture the mother owls and father owls, helplessly flying in circles while their babies were being smothered under tons of dirt.

It made Roy sad and angry. So what if Mother Paula’s had all the proper permits? Just because something was legal didn’t automatically make it right.

Roy still hadn’t settled the argument between his brain and his heart. Surely there had to be a way for him to help the birds — and Beatrice’s stepbrother — without breaking the law. He needed to come up with a plan.

Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen

In an interview with the Washington Post, Hiaasen said that he felt the same way as a young adult growing up in Florida.

When I was growing up in Florida, we felt as passionately as Roy and Noah of Hoot do. These are kids who see something wrong, and they’re trying to make it right, and they’re having a little trouble getting the grownups’ attention. This is often true in life! There are choices about which path to take, questions about what to do when you see something wrong. Do you stand and fight, or do you walk away? In both Hoot and Flush, the kids could have very easily turned their backs and walked away, said, ‘Oh, what the heck — there will be other owls somewhere else.’ Because, you know, when I was growing up, that’s what the grownups did. And now, there are very few owls left.

The dangers of doing nothing — of turning our backs and walking away from situations we know are wrong — are well understood by scientists and activists. As Jane Goodall told Time magazine, “the greatest danger to our future is apathy.” But there’s more at stake than just our future. As Thoreau noted in Civil Disobedience, tolerating injustice is bad for the soul:

How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing that you are cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, and see that you are never cheated again. Action from principle — the perception and the performance of right — changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary.

Thoreau’s comments may help explain why Hoot is such a hit among young adults. The book is a fictional embodiment of Thoreau’s message of civil disobedience and “action from principle.” It’s empowering for young people to see strong fictional characters fight back against perceived injustices.

Hoot is a hilarious, suspenseful novel that inspires young readers to stand up for the causes they believe in, environmental or otherwise. Complement with The Tripods series of science fiction books for young adults, then revisit I Am Jane Goodalla must-read book for kids concerned with the environment.