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K-12 Evaluated Resource Collection

Sign Of The Cat, The

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Author/Publisher/Website: Jonell, L.
Copyright: 2015
Evaluation/Record Entry Date: Apr/2019
Submitting suppliers/Website: Not Available
Primary Identifier: 9781250079817
Recommended Grades and Subjects/Courses: 3-6
(View recommended grades and subjects) English Language Arts

Resource Description

Duncan lives with his over-protective mother on an island in the kingdom of Arvidia and is frustrated that his mother keeps so much from him, including information about his father. Ignoring his mother’s warnings, Duncan sets out on a voyage of discovery where he learns he is the son of a maligned baron, restores his family’s reputation, and helps an exiled princess regain her throne. This swash-buckling fantasy novel for grades 3-6 is filled with humour, adventure, and a sympathetic hero, and deals with integrity, family, identity, trust, and honesty. Suitable for literature circles, read-aloud, guided study, and a variety of writing activities.


Does the resource support BC curriculum?
This product supports the Core Competencies of the BC curriculum:
Creative Thinking
Critical thinking
Personal Awareness and Responsibility
This fantasy novel supports the Big Idea from the Language Arts Curriculum (Gr. 3-6) that: “Language and text can be a source of creativity and joy.” Students who enjoy talking animals, swashbuckling adventure, or fairy tales may find this novel highly engaging. The Grade 6 LA Curricular Competency to "Think critically, creatively, and reflectively to explore ideas within, between, and beyond texts," is supported by examining the role of secrets in the novel, discussing friendships, and probing the protagonist’s struggle to be true to his personal identity and his destiny.


Gender Roles, Identity & Sexual Orientation:
While there is a fair amount of gender diversity and representation in the novel, the conflict centers around the life and death struggle between two male characters, Duncan and the Earl of Merrick. Other males, Brig and Bertram, also play pivotal supporting roles. Princess Lydia, somewhat reluctantly, becomes the highest ranking figure in Arvidia. She and other supporting female characters help to offset the gender imbalance in the novel. While female readers will find Lydia's rise to power satisfying overall, because the male characters dominate the chain of events, the novel may appeal more to male readers.
Socio Economic:
Arvidia has a clear social hierarchy where those of noble status possess not just economic advantages, but also powers and rights which supersede those of the lower classes. Duncan, not realizing his secret identity, is relegated to commoner status where people are expected to "know their place." That Duncan resents this role is illustrated when he does not see the point of playing the noble manners game when he will never become one, and that one day he will "have to take his cap off" to his 'friend' Robert, the earl's son. The societal inequity of wealth is evident when Duncan, who often finds himself short of food, considers forgoing his pride to see if Robert will accommodate him.
Although not overtly graphic there are some instances of physical conflict, endangerment, and violence that should be noted. Examples include sword fights where stabbings occur and a tiger being struck with a blunt object and not until later is it discovered that he is alive. In addition, the protagonist is drugged, kidnapped, and forcibly confined. Furthermore he falls overboard and is lost for days at sea and almost drowns on a couple of occasions. Also, some students might be a little squeamish about the fate of some kittens that were squished, cooked and eaten. Indeed, for sensitive animal-loving children, the villains and their evil deeds might appear to be a little dark or wicked.
Duncan's mother instructs Duncan to do poorly in school, lies to him about his father's final resting place, and asks him to disguise his tell-tale red hair by wearing a hat in public. She keeps Duncan's true identity from him and asks him to lie in hope that she will protect him from their enemies. However, these choices ultimately lead Duncan into dangerous encounters with villains in the novel because he is not aware of the threats around him.
Duncan, the protagonist, deceives his mother and leaves home without permission. He also carelessly and naively shares his house key and provides his address to an adult he has recently met on the pretext that flowers will be delivered to his mother. He also provides the earl with a great deal of personal information which later proves to be damaging and is fooled into providing his signature which is later used in a forged letter.
Characters call one another names and use derogatory terms such as stupid, "daughter of a corpulent pig," scum, and "flabby bottom."
Do the social considerations support, rather than detract from, student learning?
Social Considerations Comments:
Although there is some violence as would be expected from this genre, it is not overly graphic. That being said, more sensitive students might be frightened by some of the dangerous and precarious predicaments the protagonist finds himself in. In addition, animal-loving students might be disturbed by the gruesome fate of some of the kittens. Some of the poor choices the young protagonist makes outlined under the safety considerations do warrant discussion. The gender imbalance which favors the males, which unfortunately tends to be the norm in this type of genre, might warrant some discussion as part of a literature circle group.


Is the resource engaging?
Is the content current for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content accurate for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content timely and important for student broad understandings?
Is the content appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
Does the resource provide opportunities for creative and critical thinking?
Can reading level be adjusted?
Not at all or slightly
Is the level of detail appropriate?
Is the content of particular interest to male students?
Is the content of particular interest to female students?
Is the language use appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
The Sign of the Cat engages readers through humour, adventure, and a sympathetic hero. Students are introduced to interesting vocabulary/details such as the parts of a ship (i.e. bow, stern, gallery, and bulkhead) and court dances (i.e. gavotte, pavane, and quadrille). Students with experience reading the fantasy genre may find some of the plot twists revealing the main character's identity predictable. While male students may be drawn to the action/sword fights in the story the violence between heroes and villains is not gratuitous or very graphic. Female students may find the human female characters are not as well developed as Duncan's feline friends.


Does the resource make effective use of the medium?
Is the location of illustrations appropriate?
Is the resource easy to use?
Is the use of font, text size and presentation uniform?
Are extraneous elements/illustrations kept to a minimum?
The novel has a limited number of illustrations, including the front cover, and end sheets. There is a two-page map illustration and each chapter features a relevant pictorial design that is topical and gives the reader a glimpse of what lies ahead. The resource is easy to use and appropriate for students at the grade 4-6 level, although there is some challenging vocabulary and the writing structure is a little complex, making use of longer compound and complex sentences. A third person limited omniscient narrator which centers around the protagonist is used, and the plot, which is quite predictable for adult readers, is mostly satisfying and challenging enough for intermediate readers.


Does the text show insight into the complexity of the human condition?
Does the text broaden students’ experiences and understanding?
To what degree is this text stylistically rich?
Plot description:
Duncan McKay lives with his mother on an island in Arvidia. He is exceptionally bright and has an unusual ability – he can talk to cats. Duncan has always been mystified why his mother keeps so much hidden from him. He yearns to know what became of his father and is puzzled why his mother urges him never to do his best. Duncan, ignoring his mother’s cautions, finds himself on a high-sea adventure where he eventually learns that he is the son of a baron whose reputation was falsely maligned by an evil kitten-killing Earl. Duncan, making use of his cat-speaking abilities, eventually restores his family’s reputation and helps an exiled princess regain her rightful place on the throne.
Related Comments:
The Sign of the Cat is filled with age-appropriate descriptive writing that transports readers through a swash-buckling sea adventure. The sentence structure and vocabulary will be suitably challenging for intermediate readers. The third person narration centers almost entirely around the protagonist Duncan and his interactions with characters who both aid and abet him. He proves to be a suitably complex and dynamic protagonist who embarks not just on an external sea adventure but also an internal voyage of self-discovery. Duncan's valour and bravery will resonate with all readers particularly the males. For female readers the restoration of Princess Lydia's throne may befittingly suffice.
Mystery / Suspense
Literary Highlights:
Rich Characterization
Point of view


At intended grade level(s)
In 2016 The Sign of the Cat was named a Best Book of the Year by Bank Street College (Children's Fiction category). VOYA magazine recognized the novel as a Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror Book of the Year in its 2016 booklist.


This novel is suitable for literature circles, reading aloud, or guided study with advanced younger readers. Content will spark connections to other texts featuring talking animals, quests, fairy tales, or even picture books exploring virtues such as integrity and honesty. This book lends itself to creative writing activities such as designing a map to start a story or writing from the perspective of an animal. The role of secrets in this novel could prompt students to examine the culture of integrity in their classroom or school, or journal responses to questions such as: How does it feel when someone lies? What problems do lies cause? Is it ever okay to lie?