Cate Whittle and Nicky Johnston: Millie – The Cutest Puppy in the World

Scholastic, Australia, 2024
Book design by Sofya Karmazina

Artist Nicky Johnston is undoubtedly one of the children’s picture book world’s queens of cuteness. Thus the combination of her sweet anthropomorphic representations of Millie with Cate Whittle’s gentle story is a marriage made in heaven.

Cate Whittle talks to Barbie about Millie – The Cutest Puppy in the World

Millie is an orphaned puppy of enormous charm but petite size, who has been left at St Bernard’s Home for Little Lost Dogs. She awaits a permanent home, watching as her friends go off to become a sheepdog, police dog, carer or hospital visitor.

It’s not that the home is a bad place to be – it’s happy, bright and full of activity. But – it’s not her own special home and family and that’s what we all want, somewhere to call home.

Finally, Millie goes off to live with the kindly, if elderly, Nanny Birdwhistle in a village far from St Bernard’s. The transition brings its challenges because it’s so different from St Barnard’s – quieter, solitary and rather much the same every day.

Being an astute and caring soul, Nanny Birdwhistle knows that Millie needs young company and activity and so eventually, with another burst of courage, Millie starts dance classes. And that is the very thing that Millie has always loved best. With that, therefore, she finds her happy place inside.

The lessons neatly laced into this charming story are clear for young and old and apply equally to both – we all need to  feel loved and to live in a kind and gentle world where we can do and be our most contented selves. We will face change and challenge and will need to find courage to step out into the wider world.

What a beautiful book this is! The gently coloured illustrations perfectly convey the emotions of the characters and the homeliness of the settings. The author’s text tells a story that immediately feels familiar and with which children will identify – who has not felt nervous starting something new or meeting new people? Millie is a lovable wee thing and Nanny Birdwhistle a sage and caring adult.

More Millie adventures are to follow, I understand, and I look forward to seeing where they take us. Meanwhile, many children, parents, grandparents and teachers will have a new book to share, in which a gentler world is possible, an escape perhaps from the bright speed of much of modernity into a place of pinkness and calm.

Thank you to Scholastic for my review copy and to Cate for spending time with me to talk about Millie and the importance of kindness.