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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
No Kiss for Mother
by Tomi Ungerer
Age Range: 6-8
Piper Paw is growing up fast and he loathes it when his mother, Mrs. Velvet Paws shows him affection by kissing and cuddling him and callings him Honey Pie. Piper is a mischievous, rebellious kitten who breaks things, doesn’t wash, crumples up all the nicely ironed clothes his mother leaves for him and gets involved in all sorts of mayhem at school. He is known as the ‘rowdy cat’ of his class – sprinkling itching powder on everyone, stuffing the teacher’s handbag with live spiders and pouring glue down the necks of the female kittens in the class.
Piper’s mother appears to turn a blind eye to his bad behaviour and fails to notice his disdain for her affection; one day though, he pushes her too far when he berates her in public and is surprised by her response.
No Kiss for Mother, back in print for the first time in 30 years is inspired by Tomi Ungerer's own memories. The sometimes dark humour pervades both the text and the images. Ungerer's smudgy grey illustrations create a world of anthropomorphized cats which certainly cannot be described as cute. Piper’s antics are reflected in the artwork – a fight with a classmate that results in his ear nearly being torn off, followed by the two boys hiding out in a school bathroom smoking cigars before a painful visit to the school nurse to be patched up.
Piper's mother makes ‘mice mush’ for breakfast and a small vignette shows the backside of a mouse disappearing into a meat grinder. Another image shows the ‘rat-processing plant’ where Piper’s father works with rats tails disappearing into a large machine with spiked wheels and rollers.
The controversial elements such as corporal punishment are dealt with a cheeky vignette of Piper being caned by his father, but the image of the angry torrent of abuse Piper assails his mother with in the street and the subsequent slap he receives in return is dramatic. A single tear is seen on Mrs. Velvet Paw’s cheek as her hand makes contact with Piper’s face. Even more bizarre perhaps, is the illustration of a cat with a tiny square moustache in a Nazi uniform and a black armband that has a question mark on it – an unmistakable reference to Hitler and the Nazi occupation of Alsace (Ungerer’s homeland) during the Second World War.
This irreverent, outrageous and witty classic is sure to appeal to children. It addresses the sometimes difficult relationships between parents and children but shows that in the end that Piper is able to compromise, although it definitely doesn’t include any kissing!