The Chicken Cat


Winner of The Mr. Christie Award and The Ruth Schwartz Award

by Stephanie Simpson McLellan
illustrated by Sean Cassidy

Where to Buy The Chicken Cathc $19.95 CDN / $15.95 (ISBN: 1-55041-531-X)

pb $9.95 CDN / $6.95 U.S. (ISBN: 1-55041-677-4)

Listen to this story HERE



Merlin, a kitten, is found abandoned one night in the barn. No one knows who his natural mother is, but Guinevere, the oldest hen in the barn, eagerly takes the frail kitten under her wing. She cares for him as best she can, and shares her dreams of flying with him.

Despite the genuine love Guinevere showers on him, however, Merlin can’t grow and thrive on seeds and grains. So when a little girl visits the farm, Guinevere grasps at the chance to give Merlin a home where he will be safe and cared for.  Merlin never forgets the love Guinevere gave him and the debt he owes her.  When he finally returns to the farm for a visit, he is able to help Guinevere realize her dreams.


“As she paused to catch her breath, Merlin told her to grab hold of his tail with her beak, and when she did so, he leapt onto the first little breeze that floated by and quickly rose above the tree tops with Guinevere flapping in wonder behind him.

“But as she slowly settled into the rhythm and wonder of Merlin’s flight, Guinevere found that her very heart seemed to grow wings. Together, they flew through the countryside until the moon crept up between the trees.”

Real Live Chicken Cat Button


Winner of The Mr. Christie Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature

Winner of The Ruth Schwartz Award

– Finalist for The Blue Spruce Award

– Finalist for the CNIB Print-Braille Tiny Torgi Award



“This quirky and energetic book is a triumph for its author and illustrator, both newcomers to the field of children’s books.  McLellan is a fine storyteller, combining a matter-of-fact narrative style – life’s imperfections are fixed with a clear-eyed gaze – with elegant flourishes in turns of phrase and twists of plot.”The Quill & Quire, Starred Review . . . Read more …

“Stephanie Simpson McLellan’s imaginative story about Guinevere – a hen who raises a pathetic stray kitten named Merlin – soars with Cassidy’s illustrations.” – The National Post . . . Read more …

“The language has the lyrical lilt of a well-told fairy tale in which, as we know, magical things can happen. For both author and illustrator this is a first book – an auspicious beginning indeed.” – City Parent . . . Read more …

All reviews . . .


Our family really does have a cat named Merlin whom we traded with a farmer in February 1997 for a bottle of wine. Merlin is a beautiful gray cat (whom my daughter Eryn has decided is a Chartreux breed) with a wonderful temperament. The farmer really did have a very messy, smelly barn and no idea of where Merlin had come from. We honestly wondered how he had survived thus far.


Merlin in 2008

We were surprising our kids with Merlin since our wonderful other cat had passed away in January. Merlin was to be a surprise Valentine’s day gift. But when the kids opened the box we had put Merlin in, their first reaction was to hold their noses! Merlin really did smell like a chicken! We joked as a family that he was raised by a chicken.


Scrawny little Merlin when we first got him

The price we paid for Merlin grew from the $10 bottle of wine we gave the farmer to a few hundred dollars to get him de-chickenized, vaccinated etc. at the vet. We learned that Merlin was actually about five months old. He looked much younger than that but poor nutrition had stunted his growth.

About three months after we got Merlin he broke his leg. Add another several hundred dollars onto the tab for the vet to fix him up. The vet surmised that he must have fallen from a very high place. It is likely that his bones weren’t that strong given his rough start. In any event, that planted a seed in my mind about Merlin starting to fly. The story wrote itself from there.

Merlin Was Born in a Barn web B

Eryn’s version of The Chicken Cat

Well, that’s my version of the story anyway. My daughter Eryn, however, will tell you that I stole the story idea from her. She was in kindergarten at the time and wrote a book called “Merlin Was Born in a Barn”. She too was inspired by the events of Merlin’s life and I’ve shared a page of her book with you here.

Eryn's Chicken Cat

Eryn’s Chicken Cat

By the way. As you’ll see from the photo above, Merlin is a gray cat. The illustrator Sean Cassidy decided to create the story’s Merlin as an orange tabby to add colour and brightness to the book.


The Chicken Cat (Korean version)

The Chicken Cat (Korean version)

– Korean (see right)

– Print-Braille (available from the CNIB)