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Book Review

Whittington the cat finds a new home in the barnyard. Meanwhile, young Ben is having trouble learning to read. So in an effort to help, Whittington tells the story of his namesake—a famous lad from the 1300s named Dick Whittington—and his cat. And through the tale, Ben finds new courage and perseverance.

Plot Summary

The barnyard doesn’t quite know what to think of the straggly tomcat who wants to move in. He’s missing half an ear, and he bears plenty of other scars, too. But after discussions with Lady the duck (and the barnyard’s leader), the animals admit Whittington into their family. They need someone to keep the hated rats, who steal food and eggs, in check, after all.

But maybe Whittington can help in another way, too.

The barnyard is owned by an elderly couple named Bernie and Marion. Bernie cares for the animals with the help of his two grandkids, Abby and Ben. But those kids need their own sort of help. Their mom died, and their dad is nowhere to be found, and they struggle with both anger issues and school.

Marion volunteered as a teacher’s aide in Abby’s class to help her get back on track, but nothing seems to help Ben. He keeps falling further and further behind.

The ever-observant Whittington thinks there must be a way to help. The cat lost his old home when the boy who owned him was sent away to boarding school because of a learning disability. Whittington doesn’t want to see Ben suffer, so the animals convince Ben to let his sister give him reading lessons in the barn. And when the siblings take breaks from the reading lessons, Whittington tells the story of his 1300’s namesake: a boy named Dick Whittington, who had a well-known cat himself. 

It’s a tale of world travel and bartering, well-received advice, companionship, and hard choices. And when the inspiring story is finished, young Ben realizes that he has a choice to make as well.

Will he enroll in the summer reading recovery program to try to stay with his class, or should he accept being held back a year? The cat knows Ben will need the sort of courage and daring that Dick Whittington had to persevere, no matter what the future holds.

Christian Beliefs

In some editions, the page before the table of contents features Hebrews 13:2, which says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

The Bible, priests and churches are mentioned.

To practice reading, the children use Abby’s Sunday school book, which contains some Psalms and parables.

Other Belief Systems

People using spells and incantations to make their medicines work is mentioned.

Egyptian cat gods, seers, magic and the Mahometan religion (an old term for Islam) are briefly mentioned as well.

Authority Roles

Lady the duck is in charge at the barn. At home, Bernie and Marion raise their grandkids. They’re considerate and kind, and Marion helps in Abby’s class at one point since Abby wouldn’t do her work otherwise.

In Whittington’s story, a coachman named Will Price agrees to take young Dick Whittington to London and away from his family. In London, the merchant Fitzwarren takes Dick in and becomes a surrogate father to him, teaching him how to barter for merchandise and giving him food, shelter and clothes in exchange for his work.

The King in Africa is a very proud ruler, used to getting what he wants.

Profanity & Violence

Whittington (the cat) is described as a punch-drunk fighter because of how he weaves. He mentions that he killed another tomcat in a fight. Cats kill rats throughout the book.

Bernie smokes cigars. The author says that Bernie swears as well, but no explicit words are used.

Men with knives try to rob Dick Whittington’s carriage on the way to London, but Dick and Will fight them off. Dick Whittington drinks beer and ale, even as a kid, since it was safer than water at the time.

A sailor who needed an operation is said to get drunk beforehand, as a form of crude anesthesia.

Opium is mentioned.

Classmates call kids in special ed “retards.” Ben hits a boy who makes fun of him and throws things when he’s angry.

Sexual Content

The story mentions Whittington visiting a tabby cat in heat down the road.

Discussion Topics

Read Hebrews 13:2. Do you ever have trouble being kind to strangers? Why or why not?

Abby helped Ben learn to read even though it was hard. Do you know anyone who could use your help? How could you help?

Is it ever difficult to be patient with your siblings? The Bible says we should be “patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” What do you think that means?

If you had a fortune like Dick Whittington, how would you spend it? Why?

Get free discussion questions for books at focusonthefamily.com/magazine/thriving-family-book-discussion-questions.

Additional Comments

Whittington makes the real-life history of the Medieval merchant Richard Whittington come to life through a fantasy tale. The modern-day problems mixed with the tragedies and triumphs of Dick Whittington make for an engaging story many kids will enjoy.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Rachel Pfeiffer