The Old Man and the Cat (1984)

By Anthony Holcroft,
illustrated by Fifi Colston

Whitcoulls Publishing: Christchurch NZ, 1984

ISBN 0723307261

An old man makes himself a wooden flute and is delighted to discover that its magical song charms all the creatures living in the forest. But a black cat is watching from the shadows, and one day the flute mysteriously disappears ...

This is the first picture book edition of Anthony Holcroft’s classic story, splendidly illustrated by Fifi Colston.

Other editions

The Old Man and the Cat, illustrated by Leah Palmer Preiss.
“The Old Man and the Cat” in The Magpies Said (collection editor, Dorothy Butler)

Tony Fomison illustrations (unpublished edition)

In 1974, Tony Fomison agreed to illustrate “The Old Man and the Cat” after an approach from Anthony Holcroft. While several publishers expressed interest in the picture book, a contract was never secured, and the illustrations were not completed. Tony Fomison finished one pencil drawing, “The Cat”, and produced two incomplete sketches, which survive as photocopies, the originals either having been lost or destroyed.

Read more about Tony Fomison's illustrations


  • The old man carves a magic flute — illustration by Fifi Colston, 1984

  • The cat plays the magic flute — sketch by Fifi Colston, 1984

  • The cat plays the magic flute — final illustration by Fifi Colston, 1984

Reader comment

“A most beautiful and evocative picture book ...”

Bruce Morris, The Dominion Post (2 May 1987)

“Holcroft’s fable of how the birds are lured to their deaths by a cat with a magic flute is the story of New Zealand’s past ... a magnificent little book.”

Dave Leggett, Waikato Times (19 January 1985)

“While keeping to the traditional qualities of children’s stories, author Anthony Holcroft and illustrator Fifi Colston have managed to blend in a very distinctive and rural New Zealand setting. It is a stunning picture book, with an elegant gentle text, and superbly dramatic and detailed illustrations.”

Suzanne Grant, Wairarapa Times-Age (3 November 1984)

“This dramatic story, with its tenderness towards the world of creatures, has mythic elements; it reminded me a little of some Buddha re-birth stories. Fifi Colston’s cat is a splendidly ominous creature.”

Dorothy Neal White, NZ Listener (December 1984)