Dr Franklin’s Staticy Cat and Other Unbelievable Tales

Dr Franklin’s Staticy Cat and Other Unbelievable Tales by RolliAuthor: Rolli
Publisher: knowonder!
Number of Pages: 105
How long it took me to read: 4 hours
Where I got this book: Uncustomary Book Submission
ISBN: 978-0-9859378-2-9

Like a Moth to a Flame

There’s something familiar about the title of this book, and it doesn’t take me long to recognise it. Dr Franklin’s Staticy Cat. Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat. Is this an unfortunate coincidence, unconscious replication or a deliberate homage? There are no other clues on the cover, no obvious attempt to mimic the iconic illustrations of the Dr Seuss books. Just one blue cat who, from the giant yellow flashes strobing out of its rigid body, appears to be either very staticy or highly explosive. Having reviewed Rolli’s previous book submission, I know he is a poet as well as a writer of short stories, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the title turns out to be a knowing nod to the erstwhile master of children’s verse.

The only way I will discover’s to take look inside the cover.

Hmmm. I’ll leave it to the professionals.

Favorite Five

My favorite 5 quotes from this book are:

5. ” ‘Buzz! Bum buffle-zuzz,’ she cried. Cuz when she was a bee she could talk bee-language.

“ ‘Fizz…fum zizzle,’ replied the bees.

“ ‘Buzzle bum-fuzz fuffle zuzzbuzz? Zum bubble fizz, bizz fizzle,’ she said politely.

“ ‘Huzz…buzz fuzzlebuzz fuzz?’ they answered.” ~Bee-Girl (pp.26-7)

4. “ ‘Hmm? What? Hum?’ said her grandpa, looking up from his newspaper. Some older people still read newspapers.” ~Sand (p.32)

3. “You see, the balcony was actually 50 feet from the ground, rather than 40, so Pretzel’s hair, which was exactly 45 feet long, remember, didn’t quite reach. That’s mathematics, and you can’t argue with mathematics.” ~Handsome and Pretzel (p.38)

2. “Then he dashed out of the alley—June ran after him—pointing and pointing. And everything he pointed at—benches, streetlamps, trees—June listened to.

“ ‘Oh!’ she said every second. Because she could not believe it. That something so beautiful was always there, everywhere, right in front of her nose. All her life….” ~The Symphoniscope (p.49)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “When winter came and all the plums dried up, Tracy Jo sang to people as they strolled by. ‘Adorable child!’ they’d cry and hand her some of their groceries. So many people gave her things like onions and celery though, which she couldn’t stand, that she started singing made-up songs like ‘Cake is Great’ and ‘Little Girls Love Cookies with White Stuff in the Middle as Long as They’re Not Too Hard or Dry.’ That helped a bit.” ~The Girl Who Lived in a Tree (p.54)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“So it turns out that ‘Dr Franklin’ is a reference after all—but to a different doctor than the one I had in mind. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so let’s just say that the title story is a brief but delightful re-imagining of a tale that most children on Rolli’s side of the Atlantic will likely be familiar with; a re-imagining that combines lessons in both science and history with the author’s ever-inventive, almost absurd, take on life.”

“I learned to read at quite an early age. It was my first escape route from the traumas of childhood. Blyton’s The Faraway Tree and Brer Rabbit series and Graham’s The Wind in the Willows remain some of my fondest memories of growing up. It was that sense of losing oneself entirely to another world, a magical kingdom or intriguing mystery, that made them special. There was nobody else there to experience it but me and the characters, my new friends and allies—and sometimes, new enemies. Nowadays, reading needs to be far more than just escapist—the investment of time required to get through a novel means that pure escapism is no longer enough of a return. I need substance, something to chew on. So, bizarrely, it is taking far more of my concentration to write about something this whimsical than it did Hesse’s Glass Bead Game or Lewis’ Babbitt. These are tiny little puffs of story, carrying me up into the clouds then depositing me back on the ground again only moments later, with barely a clue as to where I’ve been or what has actually happened.”

“The use of an often forgetful and clumsy narrator is an interesting decision. It not only allows the reader to be, on occasion, deliberately misled, but also gives the impression that this is storytelling at its rawest, beamed directly from the narrator’s imagination into the reader’s brain. The speed the stories move at is staggering too, and adds to the sense that they’re instantly spilling from the creator’s mind. It’s not just the speed of the language, but the sudden twists and turns introduced in such an ad-hoc fashion. The narrator, rather than being a standard adult mentor character, often seems more like another child; a friend who is simply sharing the crazy ideas that pop into his or her mind (the gender differs from story to story, much to the writer’s credit). But sometimes, the frequently fourth-wall breaking interruptions and digressions become disruptive, dispelling the magic for anyone who would prefer to be drawn into the world of the story. The more I read the more tiring this becomes, particularly when it’s used to pinpoint the universality of the writer’s ideas, for example: ‘Have you ever seen a cat doing this? It’s very frightening.’ ~The Stripidy Cat (p.75)

“This teetering on absurdism throws up a few bizarre moral messages at times, not all of which will impress parents as much as their children. For example: take your anger out on inanimate objects not other people (“Monty”) or seriousness leads to bad ideas (“The Giggle Switch”). Fortunately, I’m neither a parent nor particularly fond of black-and-white morality, which probably makes me closer to the target audience than most adults. These stories put me in mind of the first time I read Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, which, at the age of 9, provided the perfect antithesis to some of the more staunch or sickly fables I’d been forced to endure (not to say that, at the age of 9, I knew what the word ‘antithesis’ meant). But Rhymes was aimed at older children, who had heard the original tales a million times and were old enough to cope with something a bit more subversive. I can’t help but wonder at which age group this collection of stories is aimed. While some attempt this subversion of known tales or morals, a few are pitched at a very basic Sesame Street-esque level, with more traditional messages and simpler teachings, such as the meaning of words (“Quick and Mysterious” or “Perfume”).”

“It would be really helpful in this more enlightened age if children’s writers could veer away from the whole stereotype of the witch as a villain. Perpetuating this Christian subversion of other belief systems is not dissimilar to Blyton’s now universally maligned use of Golliwog in the Noddy stories, or the modern-day embarrassment that is Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. The name ‘witch’ has been reclaimed and now applies to a positive role within contemporary society. Do storytellers really want kids to grow up in fear of these people? Would it be acceptable for other racial or spiritual groups to be smeared for eternity as a ‘baddie’? (Other than us English of course, but even we can list a few Hollywood heroes amongst our ranks nowadays). Okay, preachy bit over. On with the review.”

“By the end of the book, rather than crafting new worlds in which to lose myself, Rolli has managed to embed a swathe of memorable images in my mind, all of which can be easily summoned when I need a quick pick-me-up: a swarm of bees carrying tiny pails of honey; an elephant standing on the edge of space after snorting up the entire universe; a gravestone marking the final battleground of two vacuum cleaners. It isn’t all whimsy or absurd either—there is true beauty here too, with “The Symphoniscope” and “Jemma’s Castle” providing some much-needed wonderment amid the irreverent chaos. There’s not a great deal of substance, and it’s a book that most kids will probably whizz through faster than I did, but it will keep them quietly entertained the whole time and, for most parents, I’m sure, that can only be a good thing—so long as they’re prepared to face a barrage of questions afterwards.”

Gareth Long

You might also like…

1 Comment

Leave a Reply to DoonBug