Puss in Boots

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Basic Plot Summary: A miller’s youngest son is bummed when all he inherits from his father is a cat, but the cat is determined to win him a fortune. Dressed in a pair of new boots, the cat presents multiple gifts of freshly caught game to the king, always claiming that they are gifts from his master, the Marquis of Carabas. Then the cat manipulates events to introduce the king to the miller’s son, claiming him to be the same Marquis of Carabas who has been so generous to the king. He coerces the local peasants to claim that all of their land belongs to the Marquis and outsmarts an ogre to claim his castle as the home of the Marquis. Pleased with all he sees, the king gives his daughter in marriage to his new friend, the Marquis, and the cat and his master live in luxury.

This story of a masterminding trickster cat was first published in Italy in the 16th century (although in this version, the cat was a disguised fairy), but its roots seem to stretch back to Hindu tales from the 5th century. The story changed and grew as it bounced all around Europe (where it was most famously published by Charles Perrault) and not all versions of it turn out as well for the ambitious cat. This was never a story I heard or read much when I was young, so I’m not as familiar with it. It’s been adapted many times for stage and screen, though. The character appeared in the Shrek films and was popular enough to warrant a movie and an animated series, although they have very little in common with the original story.

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Puss in Boots – Malcom Arthur also translated this version from Charles Perrault’s French story and Fred Marcellino won a Caldecott Honor for his beautiful illustrations. The text here is trimmed down a little, but all the story elements are here. This version really seems to play up Puss’s ruthlessness, as he kills the game animals “without mercy or compassion” and threatens to cut the local peasant workers into sausages if they don’t do as he says. It reminds you that there really are no morally upright characters in this story. (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990)

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Puss in Boots – Author/illustrator William Stobbs retells the story here, but keeps it very close to the original. I have a special love for this book and its 1970’s feel. In addition to artwork that captures the feeling of the era in its color and simplicity, the text is a little basic. Most telling of all is the way the inside cover praises Puss as a gallant and flamboyant character, since no one seemed to really care that much about the moral propriety of fictional characters back in the ‘boys will be boys’ mindset of the time. Interesting to see this perspective from where we are now. (McGraw-Hill, 1975)

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Puss & Boots – The name is not the only thing different in this version, which is really just a subset of the traditional story from Ayano Imai (translated by Sayako Uchida and adapted by Kate Westerlund). The cat here is the companion of a poor shoemaker who is down on his luck and the cat turns things around for him by outwitting a monster living in a castle (in the same way he bests the ogre in the original tale). The gorgeous artwork is done in muted tones, with bright colored accents. It’s a quick read with a happy ending for everyone, except the monster. (Minedition, 2009)

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Puss in Cowboy Boots – You’d best get your spurs and saddles ready for some hootin’ and hollerin’ as this story takes to the open range of Texas! Author Jan Huling said she was inspired to write this version after reading the original to her son and spying his cowboy boots in the corner.  Her husband, Phil Huling, provides the watercolor illustrations. Puss here is a lot less devious, politely asking for a lot of what he wants instead of threatening. Other than that, it follows the original plot closely, but dresses it up in a ten gallon hat with lots of cowboy lingo and good Western fun. Yee-ha!  (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2002)

And what did we learn?  What I take away from Puss in Boots is that sometimes a gift which seems inconsequential or small can have an immense effect on your life.

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