Librarians and book prize panels do not care for Michael Morpurgo because they find his writing sentimental and predictable. I doubt that he minds much because he is one Britain’s most successful authors and children love his writing just as they did that of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and now Jacqueline Wilson. None of them met/meet with much literary approval.
Morpurgo is an issues man and makes no secret of it. He often writes movingly about the horrors of war ( Private Peaceful, Kensuke’s Kingdom) or animal welfare and sentience (Born to Run, Running Wild). Sometimes, as in War Horse he combines the two. And The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (2006) is another compelling story about both war and an animal.
Lily, who narrates, is an elderly lady. As a farm child in Devon, at the time when land was being evacuated for D Day training, she kept a journal which she is now handing over to her grandson.
Tips was her much loved cat. Lily was an only child and her father was away at war. A cheerful, 18 year old, black American GI, who becomes a friend, eventually returns Tips to her because the cat gets lost when the family is forced to move out of the farm house. And then – at the end of the story the Lily of 2006 tells her grandson about much more recent developments. It’s a moving ending.
The detail about how the land was taken and used is what really happened around Slapton Sands in 1943. And, as always, Morpurgo’s characters are all totally realistic – Barry the evacuee who comes to live with them from London and wants to be a farmer is, for example, beautifully drawn as is his in-your-face but nice bus driver mother when she visits. Lily’s grumpy grandfather is someone we all know too.
And as for the cat – well, anyone who’s ever lived with a cat will be able to feel Tips’s fur under his or her fingers, see her green eyes and hear her feline voice. Morpurgo really does do animals well.
The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips has been dramatised once or twice but seems never to caught on to the extent that some other shows based on Morpurgo’s books have. It would be great to see it done again somewhere soon so that more children (and adults) are driven back to this really rather good book.
Next week on Susan’s Bookshelves: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.