The only thing I don't absolutely love about this book is the title.
The cats are important to the plot, but they're not central characters. And there are so many brilliant characters in and about Tanglewood Forest! Spider Woman and bear people. An old panther and a young fox. A witch who is as much Possum as human. An apple tree and a snake. A resourceful orphan who dies and becomes a kitten and a dear aunt who dies and comes back to life. De Lint has filled the forest to bursting, weaving a tapestry of a tale out of folklore and myth.
Though the cats are cute and all. . .
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is a great introduction to American myth — both indigenous and imported. Set in a time when wild things still roamed on the edges of farmland and neighbors still knew each other, it is essentially a tale of a young girl who must navigate her way through choices and consequences — an underlying theme in most folktales. Lillian loses her way and relies on aid from unlikely allies though she is never given a clear path and must make decisions on her own. And she knows that some of her decisions lead away from safety and comfort. But she has to do what is best.
Older kids and adults will recognize the tropes and mythic creatures that Lillian encounters, but de Lint thoroughly embeds them all in his own story so that there is no discontinuity. It's completely reasonable that Spider Woman should be Lillian's spooky neighbor. The story flows beautifully. So beautifully that — like the best myths — you forget that there is a lesson being imparted and you just get lost in the story!