06 June 2009

Rave Review: It's a Secret! by John Burningham

English author John Burningham returns to whimsical form with this picture book which answers the question, "Where do cats go at night?" Burningham's previous offering, Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World (2007) was rather message-heavy. But It's a Secret! is a straight forward fantasy (if that's not an oxymoran) in the same vein as Come Away From the Water Shirley (1977) and The Magic Bed (2003), stories in which the child protagonists are perfectly in tune with a magic that grown-ups simply can no longer perceive.

Marie Elaine has always wondered what her cat gets up to at night. She finally catches him out when, making a late-night call to the fridge, she discovers him all decked out in fancy clothes. Once she learns that he is going to a party, she demands to be included. The cat and Marie Elaine are joined on their midnight soiree by neighbor Norman Kowalski and head to the roof of a nearby building to participate in a cat party. I can't decide what I liked best about this book--perhaps the similarity to Esther Averill's Jenny's Birthday Book, with its late-night dancing moggies; or the fact that when the cat demands that Marie Elaine must get small to accompany him (how else to fit through the cat flap?) she does just that--gets small; or the sheer silliness of the cat queen, in her regal gown and tiara, checking her common wristwatch at the end of the night. So many details combine in a sophisticated manner to tell a simple but satisfying story of one magical night. The mixed media illustrations bear the hallmark of Burningham's distinctive style--rough and sketchy, but ever fresh on the page. And the slightly oversized format provides an expanded backdrop for the unfolding events, so that the reader is not cheated out of the full impact of the late-night escapade.

This book has imense appeal--may it sell a million copies!

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