NIGHT CAT

Margaret Beames, Author, Sue Hitchcock, Illustrator , illus. by Sue Hitchcock. Scholastic/Orchard $15.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-439-38576-3

Oliver the cat usually comes inside when his owner calls him at nightfall, but tonight he's determined to prowl the garden rather than sit by the fire with Mrs. Bundy. And who can blame him? New Zealander Beames's opening lines spell out the allure of the garden, "full of light and shadows,/ .../ full of things that danced and fluttered,/ leaves and moths and trees./ It was exciting." Hitchcock's (Emily's Wonderful Pie) digital illustrations turn those lines of text into an understatement—and often overshadow the rest of the narrative. The nocturnal world she creates for the self-possessed feline to explore seems to exist at the intersection of the gothic and psychedelic. She drenches her spreads in black and deepest violet, adding flashes and splashes of white and turquoise for a kind of black-light poster effect. She frequently fractures time, showing orange-eyed Oliver on a spread at different stages within a single thread of action. And she renders everything larger—and scarier—than life: a huge owl, with raptorial eyes and razor-like talons and beak, swoops down on a screaming Oliver while in pursuit of a mouse; an opossum with bright orange eyes and a pink snout threatens to jump out of a tree and land in readers' laps. Oliver himself ultimately lands safely in front of Mrs. Bundy's fire ("I wasn't really scared… but she'd be lonely without me"), but the book's frightening visuals may haunt young readers after the covers close. Ages 4-7. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/19/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
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