Bryan, Ashley. The Cat’s Purr. New York: Atheneum, 1985.
Ethnic Origin: The origin is West Indian from the isle of Montserrat.
Running Time: About ten to twelve minutes.
Power Centers: I believe there are two clear centers to this story. The first occurs during the cat’s uncle’s visit with the first sound of the drum and the subsequent warning not to let anyone else stroke it. The second center is towards the end as cat crouches under the table and rat begins to sing and play the drum.
Characters: A usually reserved but easily agitated and angered Cat. A feisty and crafty, but not terribly intelligent Rat. A wise Cat’s uncle.
Scenes: 1. A description, with examples, that defines the friendship and camaraderie between Cat and Rat.
2. Uncle Cat’s visits Cat and presents the drum.
3. The next morning Rat hears the drum and conspires to play it over breakfast and becomes ill.
4. Rat plays the drum for the first time then Cat comes back and leaves again.
5. Cat’s surreptitious and early return catches Rat in the act. Rat escapes and Cat swallows the drum.
Synopsis: This story combines to types of Cat and Rat tales. One is a version of the "Why Cat hates Rat " motif. The other is a "How the Cat got its purr" theme. The story quickly establishes the friendship and sharing between Cat and Rat, and then creates a contentious issue in the drum that is only to be played by Cat. A jealous Rat disregards their friendship and searches for a way to play the drum without Cat’s knowledge. When Cat discovers the ruse he becomes quite angry. This ends with Cat wanting to eat Rat and the swallowing of the drum.
Rhymes/Special Phrases/ "Flavor": There is much play on the Cat and Rat rhyme and a few other word combinations which appear. Several times special phrases pop-up such as "pit-tap-a-la-pat," "sqeek-eek" and singing verses. Generally, the whole story is filled with these types of flavor and it is hard to include all of them in each telling.
Audience (why is this story appropriate for the audience? Developmental characteristics?: "Storytelling: Art and Technique" lists this story as appropriate for all ages and I would certainly agree with this. "The Cat’s Purr" has easily recognizable characters in a situation that is obviously reversed from what is commonly perceived today. The story-line is very easy to follow but also exciting due to the antics of Rat and the catchy phrases spread throughout. This story also has many changes of pace and tempo, which allow it to be even more engaging. The ending is appropriate in that it has confrontation and action but very mild violence with an extremely satisfying conclusion that solves the two questions of ‘why Cat hates Rat?’ and ‘how the Cat got its purr?’ Best of all this story does not preach any strong moral overtones but works on a more subtle level that focuses on the nature of friendship. Perhaps older audiences would find some of the "flavor" trite but it blends so well into the story and its characters that it is fun and necessary.
Sources recommending this story/collection as good literature: "The Cat’s Purr" by Ashley Bryan was derived from a story published in Folklore of the Antilles, French and English, Part II by Elsie Clews Parson.
Sources recommending this story/collection as good for storytelling: "The Cat’s Purr" by Ashley Bryan was selected by Henrietta Smith and reprinted in our textbook "Storytelling: Art and Technique."
Bibliographic information on other versions/variants (at least two):
I could find no variants or versions for the ‘how the cat got its purr’ theme. The citation below was the only close variant I could find that included the drum as the central reason for why cat hates rat.
Parsons, Elsie Clews. "Why Cat Eats Rat (Montserrat)." Folklore of the Antilles, French and English, Part II. New York: American Folklore Society, G. E. Stechert & Company, 1936. 293.
There are certainly an abundance of origin type stories that explain how cat was created to kill rat or why cat kills rat. These are from all different cultures.
Leach, Maria. "Who the Man in the Moon is: 2. The Old Humpback (Malay)." How the People Sang the Mountains Up. New York: Viking Press, 1967. 31.
- - - . "How People Got the First Cat (Ch’uan Miao)." How the People Sang the Mountains Up. New York: Viking Press, 1967. 63.
I will list an additional source, which I was not able to find in its entirity but was able to find a brief synopsis for. Noah asks Lion to help stop a mouse (representing the devil) who is chewing a hole in the bottom of the Ark. Lion sneezes out Cat in order to kill the mouse.
Leach, Maria. "The Lion Who Sneezed." Folk-Tales an Myths of the Cat. New York: Crowell, 1977.
Brief comparison of all versions/variants/ in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc. Stress the difference in style rather than those of content:
I easily found that the story I chose was the best variant for telling. The story had a great combination of stimulating content, accessible language, and a passion for catchy phrases. The original West Indian story "Why Cat Eats Rat" has a very rough quality to it that does not establish a good rhythm and the language is ethnic slang. It seems hurried and incomplete compared to Ashley Bryant’s adaptation. On the other hand, it does have a great deal of "flavor" that Bryant was certainly inspired by and added substantially to. The Maria Leach examples are interesting as folklore but are not really suitable for storytelling in their present forms. They are too brief to be at all engaging and lack any unique or colorful style.