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Cover image for The improbable cat
The improbable cat
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
107 pages : illustrations ; 16 cm
A strange creature, which initially looks like a cat, appears in the yard of Davy's house one day and proceeds to destroy his family's life by "hypnotizing" everyone but Davy and his little brother.
Added Author:


Call Number
J Ahlberg, A.

On Order



It all begins when David's family takes in a stray kitten. At least that's what the creature appears to be. But David and his faithful dog, Billy, immediately sense something terribly amiss. Then indeed "something crazy--impossible--horrific" happens. . . .

Author Notes

Allan Ahlberg was born in 1938 in South London, and grew up in the Black Country. He worked as a teacher, postman, grave digger, soldier and plumber's mate before he became a full-time writer.

He met his wife and creative partner, Janet at teacher training college. It was because Janet wanted to illustrate a book that Allan wrote his first book, the Brick Street boys. After that, together they wrote 37 books.

Janet died in 1994 and Ahlberg discontinued his writing career for a few years before picking it up again.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-6-In this story of a supernatural and omnivorous cat, 12-year-old David is suspicious when a kitten seems to stupefy his family into obeying its orders when they pat it. The boy is immune to this magic, being allergic to cats and loyal to his dog, Billy. Ahlberg piles on some wonderful detail as the moony and distracted parents cater to the cat's exotic tastes and the animal gets bigger and bigger. On seeing the creature, David's friend George utters an astonished "Christ!" When David returns from a school camping trip, he finds the cat has morphed into a chair-sitting animal drinking wine from a glass, his father is drunk, and the household is a darkened dump. The boy takes action but neither poisoning, trickery, nor hand-to-paw combat work to defeat the devilishly powerful cat. It takes Billy and all of his canine friends to drive the feline from the house. This story reads like an extended folktale, with vocabulary that will challenge younger readers both with British expressions and by Ahlberg's literate narrator. With its small format and Bailey's appealing black-line drawings, this book is likely to appeal to readers younger than the appropriate audience. But for those sophisticated children who love a scary story, this grounds the supernatural scariness in a very literal, frighteningly realistic, and violent setting in the manner of cinema and television. Readers: Beware the cat.-Susan Hepler, Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Davy, the narrator of Ahlberg's (Each Peach Pear Plum) curious, dark tale tells of an event that occurred when he was 12, "something crazy impossible horrific." He describes how his father, mother and sister become "besotted" with a kitten that limps onto their lawn. In no time at all, the boy notices peculiar goings-on. The new pet grows from a feline that fits into a flowerpot into a cat of monstrous proportions. His mother abandons her activism work, behaves "like a zombie" and takes up smoking. His normally nattily dressed father now looks scruffy and begins drinking sherry. His sister sits on the sofa, patting the cat, her face flushed, "her eyes heavy and glazed." Spellbound, all three cater to this TV-obsessed cat's every whim as the house grows increasingly gloomy ("A kind of gauze hung over things") and Davy begins to suspect that the hypnotic pet is "a dangerous creature." The tale's violent denouement involves a cat-and-dog showdown during which the house catches fire, and the cat hurls itself through a window and is hit by a lorry (it lay "crushed and mangled, flattened between a giant tanker and the Co-op Bakery wall)." Sprinkled with Briticisms, the narrative features some snappy writing, and cross-hatch pen-and-inks nicely dramatize the enigmatic developments. Yet this oddly inconclusive and eerie novel may bewilder readers more than entertain them. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

David is horrified when a kitten moves into his home and transforms into a huge feline spirit-beast who seduces the family into abandoning their normal lives and doing only its will+mainly, petting and feeding it. The ending leaves important questions unanswered, but the illustrated novella will find an audience among readers looking for a quick and scary read. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Do not be deceived by the diminutive trim size and aloofly posed but pettable-looking feline on the cover: there's nothing warm or fuzzy about this eerie tale of a family enslaved by an adopted stray. The kitten that slips into the yard one day seems to hypnotize everyone in the Burrell family except baby Luke, the dog Billy--and narrator David, 12, who watches with increasing alarm as his parents and little sister lose track of their jobs, friends, and lives to feed and care for it. Feeding ravenously, it doubles in size each week, becoming in the process less catlike, and more--something else. As the creature stays out of sight, David is unable to convince anyone that something's amiss--cats are often pampered, right? At last, with the aid of a friend, he concocts a desperate, chancy plan to drive it away. With tiny, somber vignettes enhancing the spooky atmosphere, this episode makes decidedly unsafe bedtime reading--but, like Robert Westall's Stones of Muncaster Cathedral (1993), it offers in a small package both big, delicious chills, and, for sharper readers, a cautionary metaphor to chew over. (Fiction. 10-12) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.