________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 19 . . . . May 11, 2007


Polo’s Mother. (The Cat Pack).

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Illustrated by Alan Daniel.
New York, NY: Aladdin Paperbacks (Distributed in Canada by Simon & Schuster Canada), 2005.
162 pp., pbk., $7.99.
ISBN 978-0-689-87404-8.

Subject Headings:
Adventure and adventurers-Fiction.

Grades 2-6 / Ages 7-11.

Review by Andrea Szilagyi.

**½  /4


As the other club members dropped off to sleep, Marco stayed awake for some time. Now that Polo had brought it up, he, too, wondered about their mother. There were so many things—awful things—that could happen to a cat.

She could have been in a fight with mangy old Steak Knife and his Over-the-Hill Gang at the dump. She could have been mauled by the huge neighborhood mastiff, Bertram the Bad; she could have been attacked by the river rats or taken to the pond.

…finally Marco's eyes began to close and he, too, fell asleep.


Fourth in “The Cat Pack” series, Polo's Mother, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has something for all different reading interests and levels.

internal art

     In the story, Polo tells his brother Marco that he longs for his mother and the “soft-warm, dark-dank, furry-purry, milk-smelling something” that belongs only to her. Every full moon, they leave the safety of the Neals' home and go to the loft, home to the Club of Mysteries. One day, Geraldine, Marco and Polo's mother, shows up. They must each solve a mystery, determined by the Club Leader, Texas Jake. Only if they solve their mysteries do they gain membership into the Club of Mysteries.

     From their whimsical names to their combined human and animal characteristics, the cats in this book are memorable. Marco can "reeeeead," Polo is nimble, and Texas Jake has an inferiority complex. By the end, he demands that everyone call him "Lord of the Loft," "King of the Alley," "Commander in Chief," "Exalted Cat Supreme," and "Grand Pooh-bah." Texas Jake does not respond kindly to Geraldine's strong personality, keen sense of fairness, worldliness, and sharp wit.

     Geraldine is perhaps the most dynamic and intriguing character in this book. Though she is a wanderer and a temporary member of the Club of Mysteries, she still leaves a lasting impression:

And suddenly Geraldine rose up on the pile of newspapers, stood on her hind legs, put her front paws in the air, her fur rising, her tail thickening, and gave a horrendous howl, just as one might imagine Old Henna would do.

Every cat in the loft, Texas Jake included, jumped three inches in the air, then cowered in his chosen bed until Geraldine sat down again and began licking her paws.

And somewhere, back in the furthest memories of each of the cats, they seemed to remember hearing someone say the same to them a long time ago, back when they were young. Always, Old Henna was just around the corner, ready to grab them, and it was no surprise that the members of the Club of Mysteries slept closer together that night than they had in a very long time.


     Musicality is a recurring theme in Polo's Mother, both in language—“The rain fell, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, on the roof. It dropped, pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat, from the eaves onto the soft ground below”—and literally as well. Each time one of the cats attempts to solve a mystery, the Cat Quartet pipes up with an original tune and equally original lyrics.

Our eyes have seen the glory of a cat high in the air.
He was dangling from a steeple, he was hanging by a hair.
He was there to solve a mystery, though in truth we didn't care.
His name goes marching on.
Glory, glory to our Po-lo.
He was forced to climb it so-lo.
Raise a cup of steaming co-coa.
His name goes marching on!*


     Naylor, in several other instances, also recalls the familiar nuances of nursery and other playground rhymes.

     To add to the drama and adventure of this cast of cats, black and white illustrations by Alan Daniel are interspersed throughout. Although a higher print quality would do justice to these sketches, they nonetheless capture the essence of the scenarios they depict without distracting from the momentum of the narrative.

     Polo's Mother is a charming story of friendship, adventure, suspense, leadership, storytelling, respect, and longing. Readers will likely enjoy the reassuring ending, embedded truths, and memorable images that emerge through playful and vibrant language.


Andrea Szilagyi is a graduate student studying children's literature at the University of British Columbia.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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