Toppsta - Childrens Books – Reviews

Dermot O'Leary on his inspiration for Toto the Ninja Cat

26th February 2020

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We love the Toto the Ninja Cat series of chapter books by Dermot O'Leary, illustrated by Nick East.

To celebrate publication of Book 3 in the series Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe, we're thrilled to have this excellent guest blog from Dermot about his inspiration for the series and his very own furry friends, as well as some purrrfect classroom resources for schools too!

Download the school resource pack, including sample lesson plans and activities, for KS1/ KS2 here.

And read on for Dermot's guest blog and a sneak peek of some of Nick East's brilliant illustrations + an extract of the new book!

Toppsta
2020-02-26
Dermot O'Leary on his inspiration for Toto the Ninja Cat

"I’m often asked what inspired me to write my children’s book series, Toto the Ninja Cat. I love broadacatsing but writing is something I love to do as well and I’ve written stories ever since I was little when I used to type up detective stories on my dad’s old computer and use all his paper printing them out. I’d make them into little books and try and sell them to the neighbours. I wasn’t very successful! 

I really enjoyed the process of writing The Soundtrack to My Life a few years ago and then, when my wife and I got a couple of cats who we rescued as strays from Italy, I just had this idea for a story. 

We have this little place in Puglia in Italy. Its in the middle of nowehere – wild countryside and when we first got there we had a lots of rats. Then this cat took up residence – we called her Plaxy after one of our guests – and she was more stray than feral so you could stroke her, but you couln’t really pick her up. But as time went on, she got more tame and ended up sleeping on our bed which we loved. 

Then we went back there about six years ago and Plaxy was heavily preganant. I had to come back a day early for work but my wife Dee facetimed me to tell me Plaxy was having her kittens right there and then – in our room, and specifically in my pillowcase!

We were going to get a dog that year but then we had these four kittens and Dee had stayed up all night, doing this deft pieces of cat midwidery. So we took two of the kittens and our neighbours took the other two. We had the firstborn, Silver, and also Toto, the runt of the litter. Our friends first looked after them out there in Italy and eventually we got them back home to London where we live. 

We worked out quite quickly that Toto couldn’t really see that well. We took her to the vet and found that she had no red blood cells in her eyes. The camera is there, but there’s no film in it so she can see breaks in light but not much else.

But we noticed that Toto had lightning fast reactions; if you were playing around she could just lash out with her claws, super swift. I thought this would make a lovely idea for a book: that there’s this cat that is a lovely, mild-mannered kitten during the day ­ – and then a Ninja by night! 

Like a lot of cat owners, we like to imagine our pets having secret lives when we’re out or asleep. Before I knew it, I was imagining Toto and her brother Silver’s nocturnal adventures. 

Toppsta
2020-02-26
Dermot O'Leary on his inspiration for Toto the Ninja Cat

To be honest I didn’t sit down to write a children’s book. I just had the idea and wanted to write it. Now I’m three books in, with the brilliant illustrations from Nick East, and seeing the reactions from readers at festivals and school events, I couldn’t be happier. It blows me away that kids are reading the books and loving them so much!

Its been fun turning Toto into a Ninja star and imagining an alternative animal-London. Nick East does such an amazing job bringing it all to life. He adds in details that I’ve not even thought about and I’m left thinking, ‘who’s this guy? I wonder what he’s up to?’ He does these wonderful vista scenes, like the inside of The Sour Saucer – the milk bar the cats have to visit in book two for some intel, and the view out over Catstonbury – the animal alternative to Glastonbury that Toto and Silver visit in the latest book for some well-earned rest, or so they think…

Toppsta
2020-02-26
Dermot O'Leary on his inspiration for Toto the Ninja Cat

I wanted Toto’s brother Silver to be a character in the books too. I didn’t just want him to be a tag-along part though. In real life Toto is a very earnest loving cat – she’ll always go and clean her brother and Silver will just lie there and let her do it. And that’s reflected in the books. Toto is the more sensible one, and Silver more laid back because his sister is a Ninja, after all! Although he likes to pretend he’s a Ninja too! He provides a lot of the comic moments in the books.

I had lots of fun writing Toto and Silver’s friend Catface who is this Stephen Fry-esque character who is rat aristocracy but thinks he's a cat. He’s a great friend and mentor to the kittens when they first arrive in London. 


Toppsta
2020-02-26
Dermot O'Leary on his inspiration for Toto the Ninja Cat

I also love writing the baddies in the books although Brian the King Cobra, the supposed baddie in the first book was really just misunderstood. Now Archduke Ferdicat, he’s in a different league! He’s proper evil genius. We meet him in book two when Toto has to foil a plot to steal all the cheese in the world and he becomes Toto’s nemesis, reappearing in the latest book, Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe. I love crime fiction so I drew on all the great baddies from the books I read. He has a touch of the Bond villain and a definite hint of Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis, Moriaty. I love writing the scenes with Archduke Ferdicat. Actors always say baddies are fun to act; well they’re great fun to write about as well."

Toppsta
2020-02-26
Dermot O'Leary on his inspiration for Toto the Ninja Cat

Thank you to Dermot for such a great blog!

Read an extract of the new book in the series, Book3: Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe, out now, here.

Toppsta
2020-02-26
Dermot O'Leary on his inspiration for Toto the Ninja Cat
Book pages Placeholder Book

Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe: Book 3

Toto is no ordinary cat, and she can't wait for you to join her on her THIRD ninja adventure!

After months of keeping London safe from notorious animal bad guys, Toto the Ninja Cat is going on a well-earned holiday to the world's most famous music festival - Catstonbury!

But a villain has a dastardly plan to hypnotise the crowd when a world-famous band is on stage, turning them into evil minions. How can Toto possibly prevent the catastrophe when everyone thinks the band is the cat's pyjamas?

It will take all Toto's ninja skills - and some help from a friendly otter - to save the day...

Ideal for reading aloud or for children to curl up with and read alone, the story features brilliant black and white illustrations throughout. With gentle themes of friendship, inclusivity and winning in the face of adversity, this is a hilarious must-read for all animal-loving kids!

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