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The Cats’ Museum is an endearing and winsome tale featuring a cast of felines whose mild-mannered mischief will intrigue young readers and cat lovers of all ages. A touch of history is added to set the scene. Catherine the Great recruits stray cats to protect her beloved Hermitage Museum from rodents. Little did she know that…
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    Falleti’s ingenious picture book for young children introduces the real-life cats of Russia’s famous Hermitage Museum—and imagines the clandestine adventures they enjoy when no one is watching. Set in the eighteenth century, the story explains how Russian empress Catherine the Great was dismayed to discover a colony of rats in the basement of her beloved museum. To take care of the problem, she lures stray cats into the room, and over time 74 cats come to call the Hermitage home. Charmingly, Catherine is shown presenting the cats with an annual feast of caviar, fresh fish, cheese, and milk—and then she leaves them to devour the delicacies and fall asleep.  

    But the cats, of course, have other plans. After enjoying their treats, they wander the museum at night, swinging from the chandeliers, chasing mice, and hosting a yearly dance recital amidst the great sculptures on display. The next morning, they leave no trace of their festivities, aside from one tiny costume, which Catherine discovers with great amusement. Cats by nature are mysterious and enigmatic, so it’s not too much of a stretch to think they might lead hidden lives. Kids will be delighted to share in the Hermitage cats’ secret.

    Victoria Fomina’s elegant illustrations are one of this book’s biggest strengths. Rich with imagination and detail, they show the cats both in real-world scenarios hunting rats and in endearing fantastical situations. One of the most memorable scenes has a line of cats performing a Russian folk dance in one of the museum’s stately hallways, each kitty with a unique traditional costume and glittering chandeliers hanging overhead. Each picture is fully realized and absorbing, creating a textured world of its own that will transport young readers to this historical location. Kids will want to revisit this charming tale and spend some time letting their own imaginations run wild.

    Ingenious picture book imagines the secret adventures of Russia’s Hermitage cats.


    A fanciful children’s tale about felines inhabiting the famed Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

    In 1729, Catherine the Great hears mice in the basement of her beloved Hermitage Museum, which holds a vast art collection. The next day, she finds three “interesting-looking cats” outside. She lures them into the museum’s basement, where they chase away the rodents. Eventually, the building’s cat population grows to 74, all enjoying “royal food, plenty of fresh water, a good brushing once a week, and...a health check” by a veterinarian each month. Yearly, Catherine would make sure the hardworking cats received a “grand feast,” including caviar, fish, milk, and Camembert cheese. Afterwards, the cats sneak into the gallery (where they’re not allowed to go) for their own personal celebration. Later, the other cats watch as felines Anastasia and Bertrand perform an “intricate pas de deux” while dressed in finery. Other cats dance the Troika and the Kazachok, described as “the Russian Squat-and- Kick Dance.” The following morning, the museum’s cleaning lady finds a “tiny costume” and puzzles over its origins. Falleti directly speaks to her young readers with her narration, which makes the story interactive: “But we know the secret, don’t we? Let’s not tell.” An informative final sidebar shares facts about the “Day of the Hermitage Cats” celebration, which began in 2005. Fomina’s full-color, painterly illustrations will delight young readers with their sometimes-anthropomorphic cats that are by turns full of whimsy, cleverness, and elegance. The images all support the events of Falleti’s text beautifully. Overall, the book is sure to delight youngsters and inspire them to learn more about the Hermitage cats.

    An eventful and well-illustrated historical fantasy...

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