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The Best Cat, the Est Cat is a delightful tale that introduces young readers to the State Library in Sydney. A giant floor map, an ear trumpet, a hundred-year-old message in a bottle, a death mask and a necklace made of hair are just some of the curiosities revealed as we explore the building and meet the people who work there.
The story features a mysterious talking cat who invites children through the grand doors of the Library. It’s the Best Cat, who wants to show them the biggest, the smallest, the strangest, the rarest and the gluggiest objects to be found there! They are followed by ghosts as they visit secret places, spy incredible treasures, and finally learn the Best Cat’s secret.
With so many hidden corridors, sets of stairs and underground stacks (seven floors below street level!), the Library is a place you can easily get lost in ... making it the perfect setting for a children’s adventure story.
Who is The Best Cat?
Matthew Flinders, who was the first to circumnavigate the continent of Australia, took his pet cat, Trim, along with him. Trim was a trusted and popular member of the crew. As the State Library is home to Flinders’ extensive collection of notes, journals and maps, Trim has become an unofficial mascot for the Library.
When Trim passed away, Matthew Flinders wrote this of him:
the best and most illustrious of his Race,
the most affectionate of friends,
faithful of servants
and best of creatures.
Pre reading tasks
Endpapers in a book are the pages without words on the very inside of the cover. They appear at the beginning and the end of books.
Read the story, Endgame to find out more about endpapers and see some very special examples from the collection.
Now, take a closer look at the endpapers for The Best Cat, the Est Cat. Consider the following:
- Are the endpapers the same at the beginning and end of the story?
- What do the coloured rectangles represent?
- What kind of paper has been used in the collage?
- What objects can you see?
- Who is pictured?
- What can we learn about the State Library and its collection from looking at the endpapers?
Use collage and coloured pencils to create an illustration of your own personal bookshelf at home.
- What interesting personal items belonging to you will you include?
- Which colours will be dominant?
- Where will you get the paper from to use in the collage?
- What can be learnt about you from this illustration of your bookshelf?
The Best Cat, the Est Cat engages in some serious word play from start to finish.
Looking at the title page and the first double-page spread, what do you notice about the words used?
Grammatically, -est is used as a suffix – it is added onto a describing word to make it stronger or better. The first double-page spread uses the word ‘grandest’ to describe the doors of the State Library. Grand means something very impressive or magnificent, but the word ‘Grandest’ suggests that these doors are more grand than all the doors in Australia (or even the world). In grammar terms, ‘grandest’ is the superlative of ‘grand.’
Make a list of all the -est words (superlatives) you can find in this story – who can find the most?
What do you notice about the font, or type, for these words? Why do you think the -est words are printed in this way?
The first majestic place the children visit on their tour with Trim is the Mitchell Library Reading Room. With books to the ceiling and books to the floor, it truly is the ‘bookiest’ place.
Find the double page spread showing the Mitchell Library Reading Room and complete a See, Think, Wonder thinking routine.
View the See, Think, Wonder resource, Harvard Graduate School of Education (PDF).
Now, take a Virtual 360 degree tour of this space using the Google Arts and Culture website. Identify some other interesting features of this room that were not including in the illustration for The Best Cat, the Est Cat.
During their tour of the Library, the children come across different people who work there.
- Identify 3 important jobs that keep the Library ‘turning.’
- Research the roles of these people working at the Library and write a short job description for each. Start by looking at the video, below, highlighting some of the employees of the Library.
- Which job do you think is the best?
Turn to the double-page spread showing Trim, Flinders and Bungaree sailing on the sea.
Find out more about Flinders and Bungaree and their journey to circumnavigate the continent of Australia in the early 1800s.
As a result of the journey around Australia on The Investigator, Matthew Flinders was able create a map of the continent. Take a look at Matthew Flinders map, zoom in and look at the details.
Discuss the following:
- Do you recognise any of the place names on the map? Work together as a class to write a list on the board.
- Colour code the place names on the class list into categories such as
- places named after people (eg. Bass Strait)
- places named according to their geographical features (eg. Great Barrier Reef).
- Who decided on the names inscribed on the Flinders map?
- Did these places have names before Flinders circumnavigated the continent of Australia? Choose one place from your class list and research its original name.
- Are there stretches of coastline without names? Why?
The vessel on which Matthew Flinders and Bungaree circumnavigated Australia was named The Investigator. If you were sailing off on a journey of discovery, what would you name your vessel? Who would you take with you? Create an illustration of you and your crew setting sail.
Find the double-page showing the children and Trim stepping out into Stack 5, ‘deep underground’.
Trim says: ‘Here are the stacks that hold who we are.’ Discuss with your class what you think this means. How can these stored items represent ‘who we are’?
Choose one interesting item you see on this page. For this item complete the following:
- Write an explanation of why this item caught your attention.
- Guess or predict what this item might be – think about the 5 Ws and H to question your item.
- Turn to the index at the back of the book to find out more about your item – was your guess correct? Or did your item surprise you?
- What else would you like to know about it? Go to the Library's website homepage to find out more!
- Prepare a short presentation for your class about the item and what it can tell us about ‘who we are’?’
View the video of illustrator, Rosie Handley, as she creates a collage artwork.
Gather a range of different paper types in different colours, textures and patterns and use them to create your own collage artwork. To make your collage complete the following steps:
- Draw a simple sketch showing your plan for the collage
- Use art materials (such as watercolour, pencils, pastels or crayons) to create the background
- Use scissors to cut the shapes which will form the collage
- Glue the pieces for your collage onto the background
To take a closer look at the original illustrations by Rosie Handley in the catalogue.