Rather than let Lillian Kindred die of a snakebite, the titular cats turn her into a kitten, and thereby hangs this sweetly magical tale.
Tanglewood Forest is inhabited by cats and cat spirits, talking animals and the Apple Tree Man. Kitten Lillian meets Jack Crow, Old Mother Possum and the fox T.H. Reynolds (whose initials stand for “Truthful and Handsome”) in her quest to regain her girl form—but that precipitates yet another snakebite and a different twist to an already twisty story. The tale is infused with Native American and European folk motifs as it meanders along. While it sometimes seems to be held together by little more than verbal gossamer, it is clearly written on a level even a young middle grader can easily follow. Vess’ many and varied illustrations will be in color in the final version (only black-and-white sketches and some full drawings were seen). While Lillian grows in both grace and stubbornness, she also learns to listen and even to see the fairies she longs for.
A satisfyingly folkloric, old-fashioned–feeling fable. (Fantasy. 8-12)