The Enid Blyton Society
The Birthday Kitten
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Book Details...

First edition: 1958
Publisher: Lutterworth Press
Illustrator: Grace Lodge
Category: Young Family
Genre: Family
Type: Novels/Novelettes

On This Page...

Reprint Covers
Review by Robert Houghton
Further Illustrations


Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1st edition, illustrated by Grace Lodge

Frontis from the 1st edition, illustrated by Grace Lodge
Playways Magazine ceased publication in 1956, Four In A Family being the last Blyton contribution that it serialised, although Playways continued in annual form for some years afterwards, and Enid's stories continued to appear in the annuals as they had done previously. With no other place to showcase her series of books for younger readers, Enid chose to serialise her next addition, The Birthday Kitten in Enid Blyton's Magazine, making this the only 'Younger Family Book' to be 'premiered' in this publication. Like those stories that were serialised in Playways Magazine, this one showed in twelve instalments between May 8th, 1957 and October 9th 1957. It was published as a complete story first in the Playways annual of 1957, and then the following year in book form. Interestingly enough, the annual came out in September 1957, before the story had finished serialising, and so children who were eager to read the rest of it could do so, a full month before the story concluded in Enid Blyton's Magazine.

As a follow-up to those other stories published in Playways, The Birthday Kitten holds its own very well indeed. It is a story made up of all the familiar elements of Enid's other 'Young Adventure' books, and shares several similarities with those that had gone before.

Once again, the book relies heavily upon 'wish-fulfilment', Enid recognising that most children want a pet (as in Snowball the Pony,), or something to look after, (as in The Very Big Secret). It was a theme she was to return to again and again, particularly in her later books, such as The Boy Who Wanted a Dog, which we shall explore in more detail later in this series. This 'wishing for something' element is, indeed, a part of most of the books written by Enid, whether we have the children wishing for wealth, or adventures, mysteries or pets, parents or siblings. Each and every Enid Blyton book tackles this issue in one form or another, although it is within the shorter texts of the 'Young Adventure' books that it is most easily identified.

The Birthday Kitten has as its central protagonists, our two standard children (standard for Enid Blyton, at any rate) who are twins. This is a convenient plot device, meaning that we immediately have two central characters who are brother and sister, the same age, and who will therefore mirror the age and sexes of the intended readership. It is also more important in this story that the two main characters are twins, because they share a birthday and the presents that come with it. Apart from this, there seems to be very little reason for Enid's repeated use of twins. Maybe she just found twins fascinating, or maybe she understood how most children feel about twins: the excitement of having someone who looks or thinks or acts the same as you. Whatever the reason, Enid used twins far more in her stories than any other writer.

So the two main characters, Terry and Tessie (unusual children's names for Blyton), are twins, share a birthday, and share a desire to own a puppy or a kitten (they don't much mind which). Like in many Blyton stories, what they so eagerly want does indeed come their way, not, as the title might imply, as a birthday present, but in a more surprising way and as the result of the children being 'in the right place at the right time'. Into the story comes that other familiar element at this point: the Blyton Bully, Harry, who, like Lennie in Snowball the Pony comes complete with 'a sly look' and who Blyton describes as 'horrible and mean and unkind'. Grace Lodge's illustrations paint him as being somewhat ugly, too, with a shock of black hair, big hands and a very self-assured expression.

Surprisingly, Enid first introduces Harry as being someone who can help the twins when they discover the little half-drowned kitten (his father is a vet, or 'animal doctor' as Enid feels the need to call it). This adds an extra depth to the story, for, as with most 'baddies', Harry will only help the children if they do something for him in return: they are forced to give up their new toy ship, which they have just received as a present for their birthday. This they do, and Harry introduces them to his father's kennel maid, who in turn helps them to care for the kitten, but then Harry refuses to give the ship back, the animosity this causes forming the main frictional thrust of the book.

Enid describes Harry only briefly, using only the barest of descriptions. In this case, his actions speak louder than any descriptions could. He is sly looking, and fierce, and 'big', like many a Blyton bully, but it is when he bargains with the children, steals their ship, complains about the lack of fruit salad at their party, and asks the twins for a shilling to 'rent' their ship back for the day, that we really see just what a mean child Enid has created. For mean-ness, he must be one of Enid's most effective bullies, and also one of the most realistic. Saying this, Enid also gives him the chance to redeem himself at the end, and it also comes as a surprise to the reader that it was not Harry who threw the kitten into the pond in the first place (as I initially imagined it would turn out to be), but the son of a cat breeder, who was sent by his father to do away with the kitten because it had a bad leg. Thus, in this story, Enid not only dishes out just deserts to Harry, who is made to see the error of his ways (and the prospect of a thrashing should he behave that way again!) but also comeuppances a-plenty are handed out to the breeder and his son, who fail to win any prizes at the Cat Show, whilst the cat they tried to drown wins two!

Apart from the friction put in place between Harry and the twins, Enid goes back to a plot device used previously in The Very Big Secret in order to keep interest going and create suspense from chapter to chapter. Because their mother wants no animals in the house, at least until the baby is bigger, Terry and Tessie are forced to hide the kitten, this time in the box room near to their bedrooms. Unlike The Very Big Secret, however, both the acquisition and the hiding of the kitten is a lot more believable and a lot more successful, from a reader point of view, than hiding a baby in a shed. It also leaves a better taste in the mouth, despite the fact that the children have to practice a little deceit in order to keep their parents from guessing the truth.

Blyton begins the story with the twins being asked to decide what they would like for their birthday. They write a fairly conservative list: pencil box, snap cards, book tokens (Terry suggesting that this way Grandpa won't buy them a 'dull book' that they won't want to read, and that they will be able to 'choose what we really like' instead: a book by Enid Blyton, perhaps?!). They complete the list with more conventional toys: a doll for Tessie, a clockwork car for Terry, a jigsaw and some paints. Then they wonder about the sense of putting down 'puppy' or 'kitten'. They have asked before and never received what they wanted in the past, but maybe this time...? In these few sentences, Enid manages to delve deep inside a child's thought processes, showing just how perceptive she was when it came to thinking like a child. How many of us, as children, believed wholeheartedly that the more we wished or asked for something the more likely we would be to get it eventually? Again, mother says 'no', but the reader immediately knows that the children will be somehow rewarded for their patience in the end.

Patience may be one thing, but good manners are certainly quite another! It is a shame that Terry and Tessie come across as petulant and spoilt, at least in the opening chapters. They have, like most Blyton children, a 'perfect' mother, a very quiet but stern father, and a completely obnoxious attitude when it comes to getting their own way. Terry even threatens to do 'something FIERCE!' if they don't receive a pet for their birthday, though Blyton doesn't have him disclose what that something will be, and then she entitles chapter two 'Aren't there any more presents?' which seems to perfectly sum up the children's ungrateful attitude, when they discover that their much-wished-for pet is once again, not amongst their gifts.

The titling of chapters in this way (each chapter heading is a quotation seemingly being spoken by the children or their mother) is interesting, and, as far as I know, for Blyton, unique. I can't recall any other Blyton book in which the chapters are presented in quotes: 'Oh Quick — Do Something', 'It Looks Quite Happy Now', 'The Meanest Boy In The World': but correct me if I'm wrong! Whether this technique actually adds in any way to the story is debateable, however, and it appears that Enid was simply at a loss as to alternative titles for the chapters, rather than experimenting with a different style of heading. If anything, the use of quotations for the chapter headings spoils the story by giving away important plot points before we have read the chapters, as does the dust-wrapper blurb, which again, like Snowball the Pony, manages to tell us the whole story summed up in fourteen lines of description!

The illustrations in The Birthday Kitten are one of its main strengths. Enid chose the excellent illustrator Grace Lodge to do this job, and as usual it was a brilliant choice. Lodge illustrated many of Enid's family stories for older children, including Those Dreadful Children and The Children at Green Meadows, and her pictures bring the same classy look to this story as they brought to the others, making the story seem very much more of a 'classic' than it might otherwise have seemed. Lodge's illustrations always seem to lend a certain distinction to any book, and she is one of my favourite Blyton illustrators, just perfect for the depiction of happy and not-so-happy family scenes, often crowded with children and animals.

Once The Birthday Kitten gets underway, the children rescuing the kitten in chapter three and then getting help for it from the kennel maid and looking after it in secret in the box-room, the story is told in a simple yet effective way, as one would expect. The children feed it on the dregs from the baby's bottle (a kind of twist on the feeding of the baby in The Very Big Secret) and then later, with milk from the larder, warmed up by these enterprising children via the hot-water pipe in the box-room.

They have a tea party in honour of their birthday, and wish they hadn't invited Harry. They are worried he will tell their secret, as he is the only other person who knows about the kitten, and this extra plot point adds meat to chapter seven. Blyton leaves a 'cloud' in our minds, causing us to anticipate how Harry might actually blurt out their secret and the problems that could result, but Enid lets us down, simply describing the party and the fact that Harry is the last to go; 'He went off at last and didn't even say 'Thank you for a lovely time!' ' It is a small blip in an otherwise enjoyable book, but leads the reader to wonder why Enid sets up a potentially 'explosive' situation only to let it come to nothing.

By chapter eight, the children have thought of a name for the kitten: a suitably 'white' name, Snowy, unlike the rather clever ironic name for the black pony Snowball, and they have kept it hidden in the box-room for 'a few days'. Then Blyton introduces another plot point similar to one in The Very Big Secret, whereby Mummy decides to clear out the box-room, thinking that the kitten's mews are actually mice. This is similar to the scene in which the shed is cleared out in The Very Big Secret, and similar too, to the scenes in Adventures of the Wishing-Chair where Mother cleans out the children's playroom and discovers the chair. In a reverse of the action taken by the children in The Very Big Secret, Terry and Tessie move the kitten from the house to the shed where 'no-one goes but us, now Daddy has his new shed' (very convenient!)

The story continues with Daddy offering to sail the children's boat with them, and the trouble this causes due to Harry refusing to give it back unless they pay him. For a while the kitten is forgotten in favour of the ship, both by the children and by Blyton. For a whole chapter we hardly hear about Snowy at all, and then we are introduced to a pesky jackdaw, which, according to Tessie 'flew off with Mummy's thimble the other day'. According to the children this nuisance of a bird is also responsible for the 'theft' of Mummy's 'best brooch', and also has his eye on the baby's silver rattle. As we read these facts, our past 'Blyton experiences' start clicking into place: of course! Here is a way for the kitten to redeem itself, attack the jackdaw, save the baby and its rattle, become a hero, be accepted by Mummy, and become a part of the family because of its bravery. Sure enough, Snowy chases the jackdaw away just in the nick of time, prompting Mummy to fall in love with the kitten at once, even proclaiming 'Dear me — how I wish it was our kitten!'

This in turn prompts the children to tell the story of how they came by the kitten and of how they have hidden it and fed it for the last week or so. The vet mends the kitten's back leg, Daddy has 'a quiet word' with the vet's son Harry, Harry changes his ways, and the kitten wins two prizes at the local cat show: all in the last two chapters of the book. Blyton ties up her story with her customary verve, plugging her own talents at the end, as she so often did, with Tessie exclaiming 'Oh Mummy — don't you wish someone could tell the story of our Birthday Kitten? I do!' and Enid replying in her writer's voice 'Well — I've told it — and now there's nothing more to say except a few words from Snowy himself. 'Purr-rr-rr-rr!'

All in all, The Birthday Kitten, like most of the other 'Young Adventures' is a simple tale well told. It's not exactly earth-shatteringly original, but it is written by Enid Blyton and has that certain Blyton 'something' that is hard to pin down. It is immensely readable, has a page turning quality, and is completely predictable and yet enjoyable at the same time. As a piece of prose it breaks no new ground, but once again provides an excellent springboard for the younger reader, giving them a taster of the delights to come, should they decide to sample Enid's books for older children. To be cynical, one could say these 'Younger Adventures' were 'advertising exercises', written for one reason and one reason only: to 'grab' as many young readers as possible and hook them on Enid's books for the next seven or eight years. To be honest, it probably worked, giving those children a passion for Enid Blyton and for reading in general that, in most cases, was to last for the rest of their lives. These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.