Review By HUYEN MACMICHAEL
I was scared after reading the first chapter of The Cats of Tanglewood Forest with my 6-year-old. Not the hide-under-the-bed-like-a-scaredy-cat scared but the “what-the-heck-have-I-gotten-myself-into?” scared. The hide-under-the-bed-scared came later (my daughter did not seem to be scared at all by the story). But what can you do when you’ve started a riveting new story about cats with a cat-loving 6-year-old? We had to plow forth despite the fact that the author, Charles De Lint, (*spoiler alert!*) just killed the main character of the story.
It wasn’t the topic of death itself that scared me (although I admit it plays on a parent’s fears for a child’s well-being); we’ve discussed death with my daughter before. Stories with death as a topic can be extremely helpful in addressing children’s (and adult’s) concerns about it. It was more the fact that there was a major death in the first of twenty-three chapters! There was plenty of opportunity to discuss life-after-death theories (but my daughter didn’t go there, whew!).
From the beginning, De Lint had us hooked faster than a cat rolls in catnip, so of course we went back for more. You know what they say about curiosity and cats and all that. Since the main character, a young girl named Lillian, dropped dead, the rest of the story should be easier right? Well, let’s just say it was so action-packed and surprising, when we decided we were going to read one more chapter, it would end up being three! At least the chapters are short so it was convenient to stop for bedtime or other life activities. We went to sleep in a state of suspense quite a few days and had to read some over breakfast! I left my fears behind as we read about Lillian facing her fears as she goes on her quest to return things back to normal.
I know we should not judge a book by its cover but I have to say, it is a gorgeous hardback book and the story is worthy of the cover! Charles Vess’ color lllustrations are soft and fine and representative of the fantastic story. My only quibble is the depiction of Lily sometimes looks too old but she is only described as “young” so she really could be any age which might appeal to a wider young audience. My daughter loved looking ahead at Vess’ images as a preview to the next chapters.
Both my daughter and I were thoroughly entertained by the layers of stories within the story but I felt the book itself is a little old for a six year old. It is fantasy fiction combined with a coming of age tale that involves magic, cats, bears, a fox, a mother possum witch (that reminded me of “The Secret of NIMH” for some reason), tree men, farmers, and Native Americans (or a derivative). No surprise that there is a lot of anthropomorphism and that the story will appeal to animal lovers. The author incorporates some farm life scenes and a brief run-in with a hunter but overall it is veg friendly.
Although The Cats of Tanglewood Forest was thoroughly entertaining and we would definitely read the next book by De Lint, it did not inspire much art or discussion after we finished the story (When my daughter talks endlessly about a character or spontaneously draws scenes from stories as she did with The Wizard of Oz series, I know it has really stuck in her mind and has struck a chord with her). My daughter said the ending felt a little unfinished since the final reunion scene was not described but just understood. Perhaps it was just hard to end after all the excitement.
The publisher provided a review copy of this book.