Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest :: Read Aloud Thursday

It is time for another Read Aloud Thursday over at Hope is the Word!

We worked really hard this week and managed to finish reading The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint. (Actually, it didn't feel like that hard of work. Heh.)

This story is different than any other that we've read and perhaps most notable is that I dove into it with Bookworm1 without having previewed it at all. We cracked open the pages, I hoped for the best, and figured we'd talk our way through whatever issues the book might pose. It did pose a few issues but nothing so terrible that I felt like we couldn't enjoy the read together.

The premise of the story is as follows:

Lillian Kindred lives with her aged aunt next to the Tanglewood Forest. Lillian loves exploring the forest and makes a great many friends with the animals, both chasing after them in wonderment and in providing food for them on a regular basis. She loves the woods and her freedom.

One day she goes off exploring and falls asleep under a tree where she receives a fatal snakebite. The cats gather around her and before her spirit completely departs her body, they use their cat magic to change her into something that is still alive. In short, they change her into a kitten. Lillian likes cats but she would rather be a girl again and so she seeks the help of Old Mother Possum (a witch) who offers to change her circumstances but warns that she might not necessarily like the outcome. Desperate to be a girl again, Lillian requests the change, finds herself to be a girl, and then discovers her aunt dead of snakebite in her place. Or is her aunt dead? Nothing is much what it seems in this story and, ultimately, Lillian learns that choices and actions have consequences and being friendly towards others has its own rewards.

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is a magical fairytale with witches, strange and mythical creatures and lots and lots of magic. An intriguing and original story? Absolutely. We were thoroughly wrapped up in finding out how it was going to play out. In the last few days we'd sit and read up to six chapters at a sitting. That said, I didn't care for all of the magic in the book. Most particularly, I didn't care for the whisperings of "the Spirits" who spoke through one character without her even being aware that they were talking. Those spirits felt like dark, black magic and I was uncomfortable with that.

The talk of these spirits occupies about two total pages of text, most of which is concentrated in a single area. I opted not to read that portion of the story aloud to my son and when he asked why I was skimming, I explained that the story was using some magic I did not agree with and that I felt represented something more evil and scary. Skipping these parts did not seem to distract from the story at all - as he was able to comprehend the entire plot just fine without it. On the other hand, I left in the entire portion of the story with Old Mother Possum who does use a good bit of magic herself but what her magic involves is a bit more circumspect. I think perhaps that if I had previewed this book, I might not have let it make it's way all the way to Bookworm1 (at age 6!). But reading it aloud made it doable as we compared our worldview to the author's a time or two. Bookworm1 never seem rumpled or bothered by the direction of the story and so it felt safe enough to read through to the very end.

Upon completing this book, I asked what he thought of it. He said that he liked it. His favorite character was the Apple Tree Man but he couldn't articulate why. The Bear People were the scariest creatures "because they were big." At times I wondered what effect the illustrations by Charles Vess would have on my son. One thing I did preview were the illustrations in the book because my son is very visually impacted by things. I really didn't think that there was anything to worry much about. Although de Lint writes of strange creatures, Voss did a great job capturing de Lint's ideas without making the characters too frightening. That is, they were not frightening with one exception: a picture which visually represents the aforementioned spirits. When we got to that page, Bookworm1 jerked away from the book and so I kept my hand over that drawing as I (mostly) skimmed that portion of the story. You might say that the words creeped me out and the picture creeped him out and since we were both bothered it was good to skip past that as quickly as possible.

Honestly, I don't know that I'll keep this one on my bookshelves to read to any of my other kids. It was a quirky different sort of read for Bookworm1 and me. It is a fun adventure to sometimes step outside of one's normal reading box and try something new every now and again. However, because of my concerns (and our mutual distaste for "the spirits") I wouldn't want to dwell on this book a great deal or immerse myself into it any further or on multiple occasions.

On the whole, I have to tell you that we had a great time reading it. However, we read it "edited" against the darkest magic the book had to offer. The rest is manageable. Those sensitive to magic would probably do well to skip this one. However, I didn't think it was so awful that I would refrain from recommending it. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is neither perfectly awful nor perfectly wonderful. I'm personally glad to have experienced it. I don't mind the fact that my son had it read aloud to him (as we talked through it) and a good time was had.

That all to say: here is this book. Some of you won't like it at all. Some of you will. We did, with exception. You can take this for whatever it is worth to you.

Many thanks to LB-Kids for sending a copy of this book my direction in exchange for my honest thoughts!


Bluerose said...

I'm glad you liked it despite the magic. I am disappointed about the witch part, though. He seems to use a HUGE variety of mythic creatures and people! My favorite is when he combines Native American/Celtic folklore. It's so hard to find writing like that. I've thought about hiring someone to pre-read all of his books and mark through profanity just so I can read them all. :S (Sad, huh?)

I've still got to read this one, but I'm probably with you. I don't know if I would read it to my boys yet or not.

Stephanie said...

It sounds interesting ... but not enough to read it. : ) Thanks for the heads up on it though!

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Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I'm with Stephanie--doesn't really sound like something I'd like, though my girls would probably be engrossed in it. ;-) Thanks for bringing it to my attention. (And, of course, for linking up to and promoting RAT!)

Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous said...

I've been hearing mixed things about this one, and will probably try it eventually...generally de Lint is excellent (though not always...)

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