Today I read Papa Gatto, an Italian fairy tale retold by Ruth Sanderson. It has your typical fairy tale characters: a kind, hardworking young girl, a vain disinterested step-mother, a snobbish, lazy, but beautiful step-sister, and a prince in search of a wife. What is unusual about this story is that the title character is a wise, talking cat who needs a nanny.
Guess which one of the maidens fails her nannying duties and which one receives a diamond bracelet as payment for her tender care and a recommendation to the prince. Naturally, it is not simple. Given the opportunity for deceit, the step-sister embarks on a charade to win the crown.
Quite frankly, at this point of the story the only thing that kept me reading was Sanderson’s illustrations.
When the prince finally meets the girl whose sweetness had charmed 8 kittens and their father, the first thing he does (obviously) is propose.
The girl says no.
How could she possibly marry a man she just meet.
The whole marriage-at-first-sight thing has always bothered me in fairy tales. Don’t get me wrong, I love section 398 and its decimals. But I often wished for more time between the meeting and the wedding. This could be one of the reasons why Beauty and the Beast is my favorite. I guess I’m a little bit like Robert in Disney’s Enchanted.
But the story does leave you with hope. The girl moves in with the cat family to be their “permanent” nanny and the prince will visit often so he can win her love after they get to know one another.
The unconventional ending (and the illustrations) saved this mostly predictable and somewhat strange story. Papa Gatto has landed on my list of books to read to my hypothetical daughters.