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John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat

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Rose's dog feels he can look after her without any help from a cat, but Rose has different ideas.

32 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1977

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About the author

Jenny Wagner

26 books12 followers
In 1974, Jenny Wagner's book 'The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek' won The Children's Book Council of Australia's Picture Book of the Year Award as well as a Special Award in Book of the Year for that year.

Her book, 'Aranea: a story about a spider' was commended in the 1976 Picture Book of the Year awards.

'John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat' was winner in 1978 of the Picture Book of the Year award.

Jenny Wagner continues to write picture books and shorter fiction that are much loved by children.

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5 stars
507 (46%)
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330 (30%)
3 stars
183 (16%)
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44 (4%)
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20 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 63 reviews
Profile Image for Eilonwy.
814 reviews202 followers
July 28, 2021
Thank you to everyone who continues to read and comment on this review. Please see Julia's comment for an entirely different interpretation of this story, which I like much better than my own view of it. However, based on my own history, I still find this story problematic, and definitely full of issues for anyone who has experienced emotional manipulation.

Note: I didn't read this; I saw it on "Sammy's Story Shop."

This story is appalling! Rose, an old woman, and John Brown, her dog, live together happily, until one day the Midnight Cat begins lurking around the house. Rose likes the cat and makes overtures towards it, but John Brown feels threatened and is afraid that (a) Rose might not have enough love for both him and the cat, and (b) the balance of their happy relationship will be changed if the cat moves in, and maybe not for the better. Understandable, yes?

But no! Poor John Brown is presented as a villain as he tries to keep the cat from encroaching further. Rose demonstrates no empathy for his position. Then she resorts to pure manipulation in order to trick John Brown into accepting the cat: She claims to be ill, takes to her bed, and refuses to get up and feed John Brown or let him out, until he asks, "Would you feel better if the cat came in?" Oh, yes, of course she would! She leaps out of bed, lets the cat in, and they all live happily ever after.


What is supposed to be the message from this book? John Brown deserves to have his feelings recognized, acknowledged, and addressed by Rose, who is clearly the "adult" in this scenario. Instead, his emotions are ignored and his attempts to express how he feels through his behaviour are demonized, by Rose and the author.

What kind of a relationship is modelled here? Not a healthy one, that's for sure. If Rose is representing a mother, John Brown a child, and the Midnight Cat a new member of the family (baby, step-parent, whatever), I can guarantee you that John Brown is probably going to be suffering from depression and emotional confusion, and will end up messing up most of his own relationships down the road as a result of this kind of manipulative, invalidating, abusive (refusing to feed him? really?) "parenting" by Rose, and its discouragement/avoidance of any genuine, honest communication.

I would be willing to read this to children as an example of what not to do, followed by a discussion of how to handle the Midnight Cat situation honestly and openly, without resorting to lying and trickery.

But the book itself sucks, and is possibly toxic for children living in families with this kind of manipulative interaction, because the story says it's great and even leads to a happy ending.

NOT recommended.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,589 reviews2,310 followers
December 13, 2018
Rose, an elderly lady and John Brown, her dog are content living together until a cat appears in the yard. For some reason, Rose wants to bring the cat indoors. John Brown, who's either jealous, OR protective, wants the cat to remain outside. The old lady plays sick until John Brown bows to her wishes.

Profile Image for DadReads.
26 reviews3 followers
June 28, 2017
I loved this book when I was little, but had I known what it was really about I’d have been seriously freaked out. To five-year-old me, it was a nice story about a gorgeous Old English Sheepdog, a sleek black cat, and an old lady who reminded me of my grandmother. A couple of outdoor scenes in the dark of night were a bit spooky, but everything was all right because the story had a happy ending.

Or so I thought.

Little did I know that the old widow, Rose, was tired of life. Little did I know that the Midnight Cat represents death, and that it was highly symbolic that John Brown the protective dog refused to allow the cat inside. Little did I know that the final stages – when Rose is sick in bed and John Brown opens the door to the Midnight Cat, the only thing that can make Rose “better” – are very final.

But you know what? Learning about the hidden meaning has only made me love the book even more. It takes remarkable skill to create a work with such layers ...

More at: https://dadreads.blogspot.com.au/2017...
Profile Image for Cheryl .
8,933 reviews391 followers
September 17, 2022
Subject to interpretation depending on your pov, and your interpretation will color your appreciation.

For example, I couldn't disagree more with the reviewer who says this a horrible book because Rose, the 'adult,' is being manipulative, pretending to be sick when all she really wants is for John Brown to let the cat into their family. Otoh, since she and the dog can use words to talk to each other, they should do so, and Rose should encourage the loyal JB to open his heart. And besides, there is no adult/child r'ship here - JB sees himself as an adult caregiver to a frail old lady. (a youtube reviewer points out that John Brown was the name of the widowed Queen Victoria's manservant)

Apparently this is an Australian book. I imagine adults in the US, meeting this for the first time, will have a different reaction to it Aussie children who grew up with it.
Profile Image for Maxwell Rae.
187 reviews92 followers
January 19, 2018
I got my very own library card! I borrowed this book because mummy recognised the cover. She’s not sure if it’s from when she was a librarian or from when she was a bubba like me. It is first published in 1977, so possibly is both. It got a bit sad when Rose fell ill :-( John Brown is a good doggie, I love him.
Profile Image for Chantal.
832 reviews114 followers
June 17, 2022
What a lovely story loved the cozyness of it all. Next to that the drawing have these amazing pendrawings. A great story about love and experiencing new things in life.
Profile Image for Ronyell.
956 reviews319 followers
March 17, 2011
I have actually seen this book on a video which was apart of “Weston Woods” and I enjoyed it then and I enjoy it now! “John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat” is a children’s book by Jenny Wagner along with illustrations by Ron Brooks and it is about how an old woman named Rose wanted to have the midnight cat over for company, but her dog, John Brown, will not allow it. “John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat” is a great tale of true friendship that children everyone will enjoy for many years!

This book was apart of my childhood and it has always remained favorite story of mine for many years! Jenny Wagner had done an excellent job at writing this book about friendship and jealousy. I loved the way that Jenny Wagner brought out the theme of jealousy in this book as it was shown in a way that was never shown in many children’s books before. I was amazed at the slight intensity of John Brown’s jealousy towards the midnight cat as he went as far as to tell the midnight cat off and I think that many children will actually see the damage that jealousy could have on the family as John Brown’s relationship with Rose slightly intensified and also many children will easily relate to John Brown’s predicament as they probably felt jealous whenever a new sibling or relative comes to the family. Ron Brooks’ illustrations are extremely beautiful, especially of the images of Rose and John Brown being together. I loved the images of Rose and John Brown as John Brown is drawn as a black and white sheep dog while Rose is drawn as an elderly kind-hearted woman who wears a pink jacket, a yellow dress and pink slippers which indicates her kind nature. I especially loved the image of the midnight cat as it seems to glow in the dark and yellow eyes that also glow and it has black fur which makes it look mysterious.

The only problem I had with this book was the message of this book seems a bit unclear to me. When John Brown became jealous of the midnight cat and Rose kept on asking to invite the midnight cat inside the house, I felt that Rose should have assured John Brown that she will always care about him even if she has the midnight cat as company and the way Rose rarely mentions that to John Brown sort of makes me a bit uncomfortable. I think that if parents go through the phrase where their child is jealous of another child’s company, they should always assure the child that they will always love them no matter what situation takes place.

Overall, “John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat” is a cute story for children of all ages could enjoy for many years, however parents might want to reassure their children that they will always love them if a new sibling or a new relative comes to the family before they read them this book.
Profile Image for u1124876 UEL.
29 reviews
September 5, 2011
The opening line of this story is 'Rose's husband died a long time ago. Now she lived with her dog. His name was John Brown.'

John Brown is a very sweet sheepdog who is perfectly content with his and Rose's life together and Rose feels the same way. That is until one night Rose spots the midnight cat pottering around in the garden.

I wonder what the midnight cat represents? I think sharing this book with upper KS2 pupils would give rise to some very interesting theories. This book could be seen about learning to share love as with a new baby arriving in the family, jealousy, not wanting to share something precious, moving towards death, separation issues? In the end all three of them are sat by the fire happily together. This book invites speculation at many levels and Ron Brooks illustrates it perfectly.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,781 reviews4,987 followers
October 3, 2011
I wish the dog were a normal, non-talking dog. I wish the dog learned to like the cat in a normal, animal way. The sort-of-equal relationship between the old lady and the dog made the story weird. If they are equals, why does she not respect the dog's preference to not let the cat in? If they're not equals, why does she have to trick the dog into accepting the cat? The way Rose pretended to be ill to guilt John Brown into doing what she wanted bothered me. I'm sure it was supposed to be funny or cute, but it doesn't seem like a good mode of behavior to present to children, or a healthy way to behave in a relationship.
Profile Image for Lily Zheng.
25 reviews
August 30, 2015
When first read, it was a really plain book that was about a a possessive dog, the old lady he lives with and a cat that seems to want to join the family. Eventually the cat does, but the book ends with the cat that 'purred'. And that was it. However, talking through it with some colleagues I realized just how sad the story was. Kids may not have picked up that the black cat symbolized death, and that the old woman was always trying to welcome it but the dog tried to push away the inevitable.
Profile Image for Emkoshka.
1,652 reviews7 followers
February 28, 2016
When this was read to me a child, I was enchanted by the subtle cross-hatch illustrations and the mysterious cat outside the window. Rereading it as an adult, I found myself feeling cynical about the characters. The dog was possessive, the old woman was manipulative and the cat was just plain sinister. Innocence lost.
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,216 reviews2,107 followers
October 12, 2011
This is a classic Australian picture book, that every school library has tattered copies of. It has been around since the 70s and is still very much in print. It definitely has the feel of an older style of picture book, as the illustrations - pen cross-hatchings and water colour - as well as the story itself have a more mature feel, not at all feel-good or cartoony.

This is the story of Rose, a widow, who lives with her dog, John Brown. They have a quiet but lovely life together, one of routine and companionship. When a cat turns up outside at night, that life is threatened - for John Brown, anyway. Rose tries to befriend the cat, but John Brown is jealous and pretends not to even see the cat. When Rose becomes sick and doesn't want to get out of bed, though, he finally realises that the midnight cat can bring new life to his beloved companion.

It's a very sweet story though laced with undertones of sadness - I think this is why it wasn't a favourite of mine as a child. I was a very sensitive child and the story was too upsetting for me - in a good way. But I still avoided it, going instead for upbeat picture books like my favourite one, Quentin Blake's Mister Magnolia . But it's not a story you can forget, so I got a copy of this recently to add to the collection, for it is a wonderful story, a thought-provoking story, and kids love it with good reason.
Profile Image for Jennifer B..
1,279 reviews26 followers
April 14, 2018
Thought-provoking. I interpreted the midnight cat as a representation of death, but the ending was quite ambiguous.
Profile Image for John Yelverton.
4,179 reviews34 followers
June 26, 2018
I found this to be a horrible children's story about a woman who manipulates and starves her dog into accepting a cat in the house.
Profile Image for Charlotte Yardy.
85 reviews
December 8, 2021
A very interesting read. This story has several different interpretations and different meanings - A Very good book for a deep read as well as applying the picturebook codes. It was interesting to see the connection between the words and the pictures with the pictures often representing a much deeper story/ representation.
I must say, the ending has certainly left myself, as a reader, wanting to know more!
Profile Image for LauraW.
749 reviews17 followers
January 17, 2011
I love the name of the dog and the relationship he has to Rose. But, I must admit, I didn't like the ending. I felt it was deceptive for Rose to go to bed and claim she was sick. I would have preferred that she explain to the dog more about how she felt - and acknowledge how he felt. It seems she didn't really see his point of view very well. I think I would have felt better if she had said that she was very sad about the cat, rather than sick. I guess that word choice slightly spoiled the book for me. I suppose you could discuss with kids how feeling sad/upset can make them not feel good all over.
November 1, 2018
I only came across this book today and I think it's wonderful. It could be used across a number of school years with different levels/issues being discussed and discovered by different age ranges. The dog doesn't want to let the cat into his life, Rose does and eventually all live happily ever after. Inclusion and exclusion, predudice, ignorance and acceptance are the key themes.
July 28, 2021
To clarify this book is not about manipulating etc. Rosie is in fact ailing and the midnight cat is a symbol of death which is why John Brown doesn’t want the midnight cat in the house. Hence Rosie being unwell at the end of the book and John Brown asking Rosie if she want the Midnight cat to which she replies yes. John Brown knows that Rosie is dying.
Profile Image for Rory Wise.
22 reviews1 follower
September 24, 2018
As a big fan of symbolism and metaphors, I was fascinated by the underlying themes and representations within this book. An excellent story to tell on surface level for the younger years, or to explore a bit more deeply with the older pupils.
Profile Image for Kyrie.
2,970 reviews
August 10, 2013
It was a sweet tale about a dog, and old lady and a cat. Not brilliant, but kind of soothing. Hope the cat takes care of the mice I saw in one picture.
13 reviews
January 22, 2015
A brilliant book which tells the story of a woman who loses her husband and is left with no companion except her trusted dog John Brown. The author depicts the story with a sad theme as the women has no one left to care for her except her dog who she grows extremely attached to as he accompanies her everywhere she goes. However, there is a sudden guest appearance in the book who is quite mysterious and is not favoured by John Brown as he doesn’t like the way she is entering into his and her owner’s life. This particular character is a black cat who is given the name of ‘the midnight cat’ as she only appears at midnight. The story moves on presenting this cat as a unique character as it always manages to catch the attention of the women who seeks pleasure in meeting someone new after the death of her husband. As the women grows more and more attached to the cat, we notice how John Brown becomes more and more anxious about the cats intentions and therefore tries and stops every encounter with her and his owner. Towards the end of the story the women, grows ill and the dog fears of losing her.
The highlight of this book is when the dog actually decides to give up his differences and allow the cat to come into their house, into their lives as long as it make his owner happy and potentially well again. What I felt when reading this book, is that is can be used as a cross curricular read as it offers a lot of different aspects which could be used within the classroom. I felt this book could be aimed at KS1 children as it has simple vocabulary which is accompanied with detailed illustrations which aids in understanding the story. I believe this book can be used within the Literacy curriculum as it offers great use of adjectives such as ‘his fur shone against the ragged sky’ and in addition to this, it can also be used to teach children about different devices in writing such as similes which are used to describe the features of the cat such as, ‘his eyes were like lamps’, this is brilliant as it teaches children how to be creative in their work when they are trying to describe an object which may be abstract to someone and how using these features it could enhance their writing styles. Furthermore, I feel this book could be used in PSHE, as it teaches children how to care and look after one another through the relationship which the dog had with its owner who finally accepted the cat because it made the women happy and seeing that, he became happy himself. It is a great read which has many deeper levels to it which could help embed the school ethos and enforce strong classroom and ground rules of the classroom. Overall, I felt this book a joy to read.
Profile Image for Dave.
407 reviews2 followers
February 26, 2019
The director of the kids daycare centre (hi Sam!) loaned this to us. Jack loved it, but Hue and I may have loved it even more. The rustic illustrations kick ass, and it's a helluva story about the jealousy about a new loved on entering a family circle causing depression. I've read some stuff suggesting that Rose manipulated John Brown with her illness, but I just figured she was really sad about the cat, and hadn't actually REALISED John Brown was being a jealous brat. To be honest, the first time I read this, I had a sense of foreboding that the midnight cat was a metaphor for death, and THAT'S why John Brown kept running it off, so "it" wouldn't "get" Rose. It was touch and go for a while. Granted that would've been pretty heavy for a children's book. Even better, maybe. But pretty heavy.

508 reviews13 followers
September 11, 2009
This was the 1977 Children's Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year.

Rose is an elderly widow, supported by John Brown her talking Old English Sheepdog. Rose sees a regular visit, the Midnight Cat, outside each night, and John Brown feels the cat is going to destroy his special relationship with Rose.

I'm not a fan.

The story is excessively sentimental - although I did like the jealousy of John Brown.

I didn't like the cross-hatched illustrations by Ron Brooks

The ending stretches the suspension of disbelief in the extreme.
Profile Image for Linda.
796 reviews1 follower
September 5, 2020
Have to agree with Jack and the X-man - not a fan - though I did like the illustrations and seeing Jealousy in a picture book.

But - can I smooze in bed until I get what I want? I absolutely believe that complex emotions (like jealousy) are very very difficult to convey through pictures books. "When I'm Feeling Jealous" by Tracey Maroney does a better effort - and my 5 yo at the time at last had a word for what he was feeling when he came 2nd and didn't get the much coveted 1st place medal!)

Sorry Ms Wagner, just a bit too sentimental for our taste. Though C does like Old English Sheepdogs.
Profile Image for Q.
132 reviews17 followers
January 1, 2013
I have a faint memory of reading this as a child but all I remembered was that it made me feel a little sad. Read it again the other night with my partner as we were putting his nephew to bed and we both looked at each other and said, is this is a poly story? It could also be interpreted as an allegory for kids of single parents dealing with their parent's new partner, but whether you read the story as standing in for something else or literally, it's a sweet and poignant tale of change in a relationship that's beautifully told.
Profile Image for Jana.
2,587 reviews35 followers
February 14, 2016
This is an interesting picture book. The story explores the relationship between a widow and her dog, John Brown. The two have a very comfortable life together. But when Rose sees a Midnight Cat moving through the yard outside, John Brown doesn't like this one bit. He tells the cat to go away, he isn't needed. When Rose puts out milk in a dish, John Brown dumps it out. When Rose becomes ill, John Brown finally agrees to accept the cat into the family to make her happy. The illustrations are lovely and help support the story nicely.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,741 reviews279 followers
March 17, 2016
Rose is an old widow who lives with her dog, John Brown. They were happy together. Then a cat would appear outside the house. Every night John Brown shooed the cat away but the next night the cat would return.

But that night, when Rose was safe in bed,
John Brown went outside.
He drew a line around the house
and told the midnight cat to stay away.
“We don’t need you, cat,” he said.
“We are all right, Rose and I.”
Profile Image for Sarah Sammis.
7,131 reviews214 followers
December 15, 2011
The surprise arrived today. Thank you! My son loves cats and books about cats. The story a bittersweet one about lost loves and new loves. John Brown the dog has always been there for Rose and now with the arrival of the Midnight Cat he worries that he will be replaced and no longer needed (no longer loved). Fortunately there's a happy ending for everyone.
Profile Image for Colleen Stone.
58 reviews2 followers
January 24, 2013
How can I not give this book five stars? My four daughters were all in its thrall as youngsters and often requested it as their bedtime story. It was a great little tale that reassured them that love multiplies exponentially when there are more people to share it. Maybe this book can take some of the credit for the fact that they are all close as adults.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 63 reviews

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