Luke explores the well-known pairing of black cats and Halloween in this debut children’s tale.
Bernard, more commonly known as “B,” once had a human companion who loved him very much. But in the months since Mrs. Blue’s death, B has lived the difficult life of a stray, scrounging for scraps in the city of Hoboken, New Jersey, while doing his best to avoid the Feral Cat Crusaders. He wishes for another human to call his own but must content himself with the companionship of his new friend, Victor the crow. On one chilly October evening just before Halloween, B comes across a poster advertising “The Black Cat Contest,” which promises a home to whoever can win the competition. Though B is wary of being out so close to Halloween, when “the spirits of those who’d recently departed roamed the sacred earth,” he chooses to report to Bella the Willow Witch at the Willow Cemetery that night in hopes of attaining a new home. Eight other black cats answer the call, including B’s friend Catcher. At the gathering, Bella explains that each cat must fetch “a gulp of breath from a naughty girl or boy,” the tail of a rat, and the source of magic belonging to one of the witches living in town (“Their source might be drawn from an amulet like the sorcerer’s stone or it could be a simple piece of string”) before Halloween ends. Whoever does the best with the challenges will earn a position as Bella’s familiar. B attacks the tasks with determination, but he faces many obstacles on the path to finding a place to call home. Luke’s prose is playful, particularly when describing the intricacies of cat behavior (the feline dialect has “thirty-six documented hisses, one hundred and nine purrs, [and] twenty-seven meows in nineteen variations”), though there are a few jarring phrases (“Godzilla-size room,” “concourse…the length of a football field”) that distract from the story. The integration of classic Halloween elements like ghosts and witches helps set the scene, though the fairies feel superfluous and out of context. An unexpected ending refreshes an otherwise straightforward plot.
A scrappy feline protagonist enriches this seasonal story of seeking a home.