S.F. Said, Dave McKean (illus)
Varjak Paw is an exciting and imaginative adventure story which is great to read aloud and to look at closely with its striking illustrations.
Varjak Paw is a pedigree kitten leading a sheltered life with his family. A bit of a misfit, Varjak looks and behaves differently to the rest of the family and is often ridiculed; but one day, when the family are in danger, he is the one who bravely ventures outside to seek help. Varjak soon finds himself in the city and a world of intimidating street cats and mysterious feline disappearances. In his dreams Varjak meets an ancestor Jalal and learns a mystical martial arts for cats called ‘The Way’, which helps him survive life in the city. Eventually with new friends and new skills he is able to help his family and solve the mystery of ‘The Vanishings’.
The story explores a number of themes and ideas giving lots to talk about including being different, bullying, friendship, courage and determination.
Read what the author says about the story here.
Talk about the book
Here are some ideas to choose from to talk about as you go through or when you have finished the story:
How the book made you feel. Were any bits that were especially scary or funny? Share your funniest or scariest moments.
Talk about how you think Varjak feels at different points in the story?
Talk about the difficulties Varjak has at home in his family and when he is in the city and how he copes with them.
Talk about which characters you liked most and why. We started off the book with me reading it aloud once a week to Naomi (aged 7) after school and before her swimming class. She was immediately intrigued and picked up on clues to the mystery of the missing cats, guessing the strange man at the beginning of the book would come back into the story and she had lots of theories.
‘Wait a minute I’m thinking – maybe the gentleman stole Luka and now he’s one of the black cats.’
She was fascinated by mention of Sally Bones. ‘I can’t wait to meet Sally Bones!’
By the time we reached midway through the book with the tension mounting she said ‘I love this book.’ From that point on our read aloud sessions sadly stopped as Naomi wouldn’t part with the book, she devoured the rest of the story really quickly and read it more than once. She also made a mini book of the characters from the story and tried acting out the Seven Skills of Jalal.
After she had finished, we had fun with a mini ‘interview’ about the book which worked as I had read it too).
We talked about her favourite parts of the story
When they were looking for Tam, who disappeared in The Vanishings. She also thought the idea of the book; that the man was taking all the cats and making them into toys and that Varjak knew this when he looked in their eyes and said ‘not quite alive and not quite dead’ was ‘quite cool.’
What did you think of Varjak?
‘He felt alone in his family because no one was like him – but now he’s got friends (on the streets) who are like him, so he doesn’t feel alone anymore.’
What would you say to Varjak if you could?
‘I’d say be yourself, you know ‘The Way’ you know you are right, and your family is wrong so just go with it, you know the Elder Paw is right.’
What would you say to the author, SF Said?
‘I would say it’s a really good book because it actually is. Sometimes when you are reading a book you are so into the book you can’t hear anything. You feel like you are in the book, it’s like you are in the world of Varjak Paw and you’re not in the real world anymore and your eyes can’t see anything else.’
She will be reading the sequel, The Outlaw Varjak Paw as soon as she can!
After that Naomi interviewed me and we started talking about other books too, this was fun – even better with a prop, a real or pretend microphone to hold or a device to actually record the interview on. It was really surprising how reflective she was. Things to make and do
Things to make and do
Make masks and act a scene from the story
Make a Varjak mask and one for another character and recreate a scene from the story (eg when Varjak meets Sally Bones) and have imaginary conversations between the characters.
Make a poster
Make a poster about the mysterious ‘vanishings’
Move like Varjak
Find a space so your child can try recreating the Seven ways of Jalal with their bodies (slow time, moving circles, shadow walking). You could take photos to look at together afterwards.
Make a map
On a big piece of paper draw a map of the places in the story. Talk about the map together and follow Varjak’s journey from the Countessa’s House to the city streets
Make Varjak’s city survival guide
What advice would Varjak give other kittens venturing into the city for the first time? Make a mini book with information about how to recognise a dog, what a car is, street cats to be wary about and pictures of the seven skills of Jalal which could come in handy.
See our print-off activity book with some of these ideas and other activities
Find out more
Read more books by author SF Said
The Outlaw Varjak Paw
Phoenix (a book for 9+)
Find out more about illustrator Dave McKean