April 23, 2020


Breaking Cat News 3: Take It Away, Tommy—A “Breaking Cat News” Adventure. By Georgia Dunn. Andrews McMeel. $11.99.

     Lupin, Elvis and Puck, the three cats at the center of Georgia Dunn’s amusingly offbeat Breaking Cat News books, are joined by a whole passel of other felines in the series’ third entry, Take It Away, Tommy. The basic idea here is that cats have their own version of CNN – call it Cat News Network – that they use to communicate among themselves when anything that is noteworthy to cats happens to be going on. The cats dress up like TV reporters and use microphones and toss commentary back and forth while interacting with their humans, who appear to be oblivious to all the equipment (if it really exists) and interact with the cats simply as cats. The human family expanded in Dunn’s first two books, so it now includes a man, a woman and two children (toddler and infant), and everybody deals with the cats in his or her own way.

     That, however, is not all, especially when it comes to Take It Away, Tommy. The title refers to a cat from another family who is now part of the Breaking Cat News team. He is a field reporter – and, more significantly in this book, a barn reporter. Tommy meets Burt, a barn cat, and visits the barn on behalf of Breaking Cat News. In the barn, Tommy and Burt encounter Baba Mouse, a cat who has “had over 90 kittens” and is “older than dirt” but is also quite formidable and proves, in the course of this book, to have a significant role to play in the ever-expanding story. Burt has more to do, too: he is “an AV cat” who helps hook together the various elements of Breaking Cat News programming. This involves Lupin, Elvis and Puck dealing again with the Spanish-speaking (actually bilingual) cats from the upstairs apartment, first introduced in the series’ second book. And there are other cats introduced in this book, in addition to Burt and Baba Mouse. One is Sophie, who lives in the same house as Tommy and is “beautiful” and “very smart” and, in fact, an artist – but who does not care for Tommy at all, at least through most of the book. Another new feline here – and this becomes a very unusual story indeed – is Tillie, a ghost cat.

     Yes, ghost cat. Puck sees her and reacts as real-world cats sometimes do when they see things that nobody else can see. The other cats in the cast do not see Tillie, which thoroughly complicates matters. Tillie bounds around the house, knocking down things (for which Puck gets blamed), and asking, “Where is that new addition?” Since the house is an old one (now divided into apartments), Tillie’s quest is obviously for something from an earlier time – and gradually, through some delightful cat-and-human interaction, the mystery is explored and eventually solved. Elvis, sitting at the news anchor desk, says “things are getting strange” as this story develops, and they are indeed. For example, the two human women who try to figure things out try a Ouija board that keeps giving them the word “cat,” which they think is a mistake. A human ghost, a woman nicknamed Freddie, floats in asking, “Where is my cat?” But although Lupin sees Freddie, he cannot see Tillie and, well, things get pretty convoluted as the story progresses far beyond anything in Dunn’s earlier books.

     Dunn seems determined to broaden and deepen the Breaking Cat News premise. Even when the mystery of Tillie and Freddie is solved, it leads to something else, involving Puck’s favorite toy, Buzzy Mouse, being mouse-napped and held for a cheese-wheel ransom by a mouse gang. That situation, which ties obliquely to the ghost-cat story, turns out to require intervention by Baba Mouse to bring the story to a warmhearted and happy ending.

     There are Thanksgiving-related pages here, and Christmas-related pages, and Dunn does not entirely abandon the short-form vignettes that made up most of the first two books – such as, in Take It Away, Tommy, Elvis’ insistence on repeatedly taking a baby toy because he considers it a cat toy, and all the cats’ concern about the “little man trapped in the TV,” who is a video-game character. “The People are able to transmit instructions and send supplies to the little man through this electronic transistor,” Puck explains, but Lupin’s offer to pull the man out leads only to Lupin being carried away from the TV set, whose screen he is blocking while appearing (from the people’s viewpoint) to try to play with the video-game world himself. The different interpretations of the world by cats and humans are part of the fun in the Breaking Cat News books, and the way cats and humans deal with and help each other, often inadvertently, is another part (the ghost story is an especially well-done instance of that). Dunn has created some unusual, very amusing, grounded-in-reality scenes for this series – ones that cat owners in particular will appreciate (since the cats really do behave like cats some of the time), and ones that will tickle the funnybones and tug the heartstrings even of people who do not share their lives with felines.

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