The Sly Old Cat

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The Sly Old Cat
First edition
Author Beatrix Potter
Illustrator Beatrix Potter
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Children's literature
Publisher Frederick Warne & Co
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover)
ISBN 0-7232-1420-4
Preceded by The Tale of the Faithful Dove 

The Sly Old Cat is a children's book written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter in 1906, and first published by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1971, almost thirty years after her death. The story tells of a cat who invites a rat to a tea party with the intention of eating him, but the rat outwits her and leaves the party with a muffin in a paper bag.

The story was written in 1906 for her publisher's daughter, and was intended to be published in 1907 as a panorama book, a long strip of paper with text and illustrations that folded into a wallet. Booksellers objected to the format, because the item was too difficult to keep folded and in its place once customers opened it for examination. The tale was set aside. In 1916, it was again considered for publication but, again, set aside. Potter's eyesight was failing and she did not want to become involved in the labour of developing a book for publication. It was first published in 1971 with Potter's rough sketches. The book was critically well received.


A cat invites a rat to her tea party. She eats her bread and leaves only crumbs for the rat. She drinks her tea and leaves only drops of milk for the rat. The rat believes she will eat him for dessert and wishes he had not come. When the cat raises the milk jug to drink the last of the milk, the rat gives the jug a pat and it slips down over the cat's head. She bangs about the kitchen unable to free herself. The rat sips some tea, puts a muffin in a paper bag, and leaves. Later, he eats the muffin.

Composition and publication

Potter wrote the book in 1906 for her publisher's daughter, Nellie Warne. Publication was intended for 1907 as a companion piece to the panorama books, The Story of A Fierce Bad Rabbit and The Story of Miss Moppet, but booksellers objected to the panorama format which was nothing more than a long paper strip of illustrations and text that folded accordion-fashion into a wallet and was tied with a ribbon. It was difficult to keep such a book folded and enclosed in its wallet after curious customers opened it for examination. The story was set aside.[1]

In 1916, the story was again considered for publication but in the standard small book format of the Peter Rabbit library rather than the panorama format.[2] The title was announced on an endpaper as The Story of the Sly Old Cat but Potter's watercolours were never prepared for printing. Her eyesight was failing and she did not look forward to the work involved in preparing the book for publication. She suggested Ernest Aris for the job, but the book only reached a rough draft stage. The story was first published in 1971 with Potter's rough sketches. The book is not included in the standard small format library of 23 Peter Rabbit books.[3]

Critical commentary

The Sly Old Cat is told mainly in monosyllables, and is critically considered "perfect in its fusion of word and picture, and visually reminiscent of Randolph Caldecott in its rythmic narrative flow."[1]


  1. ^ a b Taylor 1987, p. 130
  2. ^ Lear 2007, p. 280
  3. ^ MacDonald 1986, p. 50
Works cited
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