“Puss in Boots” is one of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, of “Cinderella” fame. It is not as well-known to today’s kids as “Cinderella,” but the character’s inclusion in the “Shrek” movies have made Puss, if not the story, popular again. Share it with classes from preschool to secondary.
The story begins with the death of a miller, who leaves his fortune unevenly divided among his three sons. The eldest receives the mill, the middle son the donkey, and the youngest receives just the cat who keeps down the mice in the mill.
Fortunately for him, this is a magic cat. Upon being provided with boots, he sets out to make his master’s fortune through a series of clever ruses.
Puss begins by hunting and taking the spoils to the king, saying they are sent by the Marquis of Carabas, the name he has chosen to give to the miller’s son. After a few months of this, he learns that the king will be driving nearby. He has the miller’s son undress and swim in the river. The cat attracts the king’s attention and claims that thieves have stolen his master’s clothing, so the king (remembering the supposed generosity of the supposed Marquis of Carabas) provides the miller’s son with rich clothing and takes him along in his coach.
The cat runs ahead of the coach, frightening the peasants into saying that all the fields belong to the Marquis of Carabas. In fact, they belong to an ogre. The cat gets to the ogre’s castle ahead of the coach, tricks the ogre into turning into a mouse, kills the ogre, and takes over the castle in the name of the Marquis of Carabas. The king, greatly impresses with the wealth of the false Marquis, offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to the miller’s son.
Having acquired land, a castle, and a princess, the miller’s son settles down and lives happily ever after.
Fiona French has done a beautiful picture book of this story, and Phillip Pullman has done an excellent version called Puss in Boots: The Adventures of That Most Enterprising Feline. If you prefer, you can read the story in translation from Perrault by clicking on the title at the top of this page.
- At Purr’n’Fur you will find the entire story illustrated in stamps from Paraguay. Divide students into groups and have them design stamps for each episode, or use the stamp illustrations to prompt a retelling of the story.
- Try a quiz for quick assessment.
Once you’ve retold the story and made sure that everyone understands it, it’s time to move on to cross-curricular connections.
- Is “Puss in Boots” a trickster tale? Puss’s first strategic move is to do some hunting and give his catch to the king on behalf of his master, but soon he is tricking ogres and forcing peasants to do his bidding with bribes or menaces. However, there is no point at which his cleverness turns back against him, as is often the case with trickster tales. Bring out the graphic organizers and compare with trickster tales such as the stories of Anansi the Spider.
- A list of lessons kids can learn from Puss in Boots could be a good starting point for a writing assignment.
- You can despise Puss for being a liar, but you can also admire him for his verbal skill. List the lies the cat tells, and decide whether they constitute clever speech or just plain lying.
- Puss in Boots tricks the ogre by suggesting that he will not be capable of becoming a small animal, even though he has proved he can become a big animal. Let your young students sort pictures or names of animals into big and small, put them in order by size, or research sizes of animals.
- The Magic Mirror: An Antique Optical Toy contains an image of Puss in Boots in a distorted form known as “anamorphic art.” Essentially, anamorphic art consists of pictures drawn with distortions that make them hard to understand — until a cylindrical mirror is placed in the middle of the picture. Dover has done a nice collection of these, complete with a sheet of Mylar to use as a mirror. Here is the math involved. Here’s a how-to.
- The cat needs boots to present a good appearance as he seeks his master’s fortune. The miller’s son has to pretend all his clothes have been stolen in order to fool the king into believing he is a nobleman. How is or was clothing used as a marker of social position? This could be a great writing prompt, adjusted to focus on either the historical period your class is studying, or modern times at your school.
- At the same time, it seems surprising that the miller’s son’s speech or manners didn’t betray the fact that he wasn’t a nobleman. Have students write a letter of advice from Puss to the miller’s son explaining how to behave in the company of the king.
- “Puss in Boots” is a popular story for the British custom of the Christmas pantomime or “panto.” These are family performances with singing and audience participation, not silent mime at all. Just as we in the United States think of “The Nutcracker” or the new holiday movies as traditional Christmas outings, the English plan to go to the panto. These performances are usually fairy tales, with “Puss in Boots” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” being favorites. An old woman played by a man and a young boy played by a girl are part of the tradition. Here is a scene from a panto script of the story. Read about this special holiday custom, or try it out in your classroom.
- One early illustrator , George Cruikshank, was appalled by “Puss in Boots.” He felt that it encouraged lying. Nowadays, parents are often concerned that video games encourage violence. (Cruikshank was not bothered by the violence in the story.) Does this story have a moral? Should it? Will a story in which bad behavior prospers lead to bad behavior in readers? Practice debate skills, or use the question as a writing prompt.
- The miller’s son may be one of the most passive male characters ever encountered in a fairy tale. Perrault specified that he was handsome, and that he cast tender looks at the king’s daughter, but beyond that, he doesn’t do a thing but obey the cat. He doesn’t even have a name. Challenge students to rewrite the story to make the miller’s son more obviously deserving of his good fortune.
- It seems that Puss has never before shown his talents — the story does not, for example, begin by saying that the youngest son inherits a talking cat of great cleverness. It is not until the miller’s son suggests that he may have to eat the cat to keep from starving that Puss starts talking. Once he has put on his boots and assured his future comfort by elevating his master to wealth and high social position, he settles down as a cat again and doesn’t do anything else. Puss may just be a practical creature who only does what he needs to do to survive. But it seems a little surprising that he would choose to use his great abilities for only a few months out of his entire life. Is he wrong to make that decision? Should he be using his powers for good, rather than just for profit? Use this discussion as a writing prompt.
- Planet Science suggest this game, which sounds like a lot of fun: “Puss in Boots: The players are divided into two teams. Each team is given a pair of very big boots and a wide-brimmed hat. At the signal the players get on the boots, put on the hat, run to the little flag, take off the hat, make a bow, put on the hat again, return to their teams and give the hats and the boots to the next players in the teams.” We’d put the “little flag” at the front of the room and line up the teams at the back, or take it out to playground if the weather is nice.
- “Puss in Boots” has been a subject for many great illustrators, including Maxfield Parrish, Walter Crane, and Arthur Rackham. Have students compare the various versions of Puss, noting especially how the different illustrators showed Puss’s character. Note the body language of the cat, and how it becomes more human once Puss has his Boots. Sur la Lune has a nice collection of illustrations for this story.