The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, Charles De Lint

11 Feb

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles De Lint

Lillian woke up and had a long, lazy stretch. What an odd dream, she thought. She lifted a paw, licked it, and had just started to clean her face when she realized what she was doing. She held the paw in front of her face. It was definitely a paw, covered in fur and minus a thumb. Where was her hand? She looked at the rest of herself and saw only a cat’s calico body, as lean and lanky as her own, but covered in fur and certainly not the one she knew. “What’s become of me?” she said. “You’re a kitten” said a voice from above.

It is such a pleasure to experience clean prose and good storytelling when reading books aloud to children (….as anyone who has had to suffer through that godawful Harry Potter aloud probably knows). A children’s book has to move the plot along with every sentence, use every detail, create a perfect balance of scene-setting, emotion and action. I’ve found such skill in Beverly Cleary’s work, and now again in The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles De Lint.

The book was published in hardcover in 2013 and I bought it for my daughter a little prematurely because it’s about a little girl, magic and cats, which if you are the parent of a certain kind of little girl is all you need to hear. She’s now six-and-a-half and the perfect age for it. We’ve read a few chapter-books before, but this is the first one that she’s been truly eager to get back to. The story follows Lillian, who gets turned into a cat and then has various adventures trying to become a girl again.

De Lint’s name is familiar, and he’s published more than 70 children’s and YA books. Some authors get lazy at the tail end of a resume like that, but De Lint is clearly a master craftsman.

I am not enamored of the illustrations by Charles Vess, who is talented at drawing nature and animals but struggles to make human faces recognizable from one frame to the next. My daughter pointed it out right away, so criticizing the illustrations is another of her pleasures in the book! Like mother like daughter.

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