Ursula K. Le Guin
Illustrations by S. D. Schindler
Orchard Books, New York, 1988
A beautiful young person's book that tells the tale of four young tabby cats who are mysteriously born with soft furry wings. The kittens of Mrs. Jane Tabby -- Thelma, Harriet, Roger and James -- learn to fly as a means of escape from the daily dangers of the trashy urban alley which is their home.
When Mrs. Tabby learns of the kittens' ability to fly she urges them to seek a life away from the vicious dogs, perilous cars and trucks, and heedless Shoes and Hands (cat words for people).
The kittens stoically accept the advice of their mother -- "they know that that is the way it must be in cat families" -- and fly far from the city. They begin together a new life in a woods near Overhill Farm.
At first the woods is a fine place to explore. When the flying tabbies arouse the ire and suspicion of a mother owl though, things become harder than they seemed back in the city. James is wounded and ill after narrowly escaping the owl; hunting without James' help is difficult; and the nightly squabbling of a neighboring family of raccoons seems worse than noisy trucks ever were. One night the tabbies' thoughts turn to their old home, and encounters with kicking Shoes and mean grabbing Hands. It is then that Harriet reveals a recent encounter with a sort of Hands the kittens have never known: the gentle hands of a girl from Overhill Farm.
The tabbies' initial mistrust of the Hands -- Susan and Hank Brown -- is finally dispelled when, after eating a plate full of tasty kibble, the cats cautiously approach the children. Susan and Hank seem to uniquely understand that the mystery and shyness of the tabbies must be protected by secrecy and acceptance. And this is the touching beauty of Catwings.
"I will never never never ever catch you, or cage you, or do anything to you you don't want me to do," Susan said to Harriet. "I promise. Hank, you promise too."
... makes tender-hearted, misunderstood grownups cry.
"Purr" said Harriet.
"I promise. And we'll never ever tell anybody else," Hank said, rather fiercely. "Ever! Because -- you know how people are. If people saw them --"
"I promise," Susan said. She and Hank shook hands, promising.
Roger flew over gracefully and landed on Hank's shoulder.