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Cool cats, Cuba-style

Figaro and Rumba and the Cool Cats by Anna Fienberg & Stephen Michael King (Allen & Unwin, $24.99)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

imageThe Cool Cats band from Cuba has taken over the Crocodile Café featured in the first Figaro and Rumba book, but the fun goes on – and the music keeps playing. Adventure follows adventure and suspense is sustained in this musical melodrama about Figaro, a lovable drummer dog, and his singer-composer friend Rumba the cat. I read it to my twin grandchildren, almost seven, who couldn’t wait for each instalment. One had started reading it to himself, but asked me to help as he was so eager to race through the six chapters. His sister wanted it read out to ensure a quicker arrival at a happy ending.

Unusually for a chapter book, the pictures pepper every page of text. And they’re delightful illustrations, thanks to Stephen Michael King – an award-winning Australian artist-writer who’s a bit Quentin Blake in style. We see Figaro and Rumba play games – and music – alongside a cluster of cool cats, a possum and, somewhat surprisingly, a sloth.

Adults will enjoy the rich language, which also challenges the young reader with its metaphors: air “as thick as a hamburger – you could take a bite out of it!” and “…to swoon beneath the spell of their singing and steel guitars”. The structure of the two Cuban felines’ English is unusual, such as “back in Cuba, she is saving up for it for many years…this car is meaning mucho to her” and “I am not happy with my solo, Rumba. Is not exciting.” This might pose a challenge for parents and teachers, but I don’t think it will bother children. They’re used to hearing it in television cartoons.

Award-winning Australian author Anna Fienberg is best known as co-author of the fantastical Tashi series. Now that she’s written two Figaro and Rumba books, I hope there will be more.