Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, by Chris Riddell (Harper Collins, 2008, 171 pages but a lot of them are pictures).
I remember as a child how I pored over the illustrations of the Eloise books—there is so much to see in them, and they are so much more than the words but so part of the story. Ottoline and the Yellow Cat offers a similarly wonderful reading/looking experience, but with a very different type of heroine.
Ottoline is the young daughter of eccentric collectors, who travel the world looking for such wonders as four spouted teapots. She stays home with Mr. Munroe, her Norwegian bog troll friend and chaperone, and a host of service personnel who visit at regular intervals, and she passes the time working on her own collections, writing in her notebook of observations and clever plans, and splashing in puddles. The bear in the laundry room is interesting, but the mysterious lost lap dogs and jewel thefts in her neighbor hood offer more scope for an intelligent young girl and her troll companion, who set off into the strange city to crack the case….
That’s the bare bones of the plot; frankly, the mystery didn’t intrigue me all that much. But the book is so much more than its story, because there is more pictured than is told—lavishly detailed drawings (black and white, with bits of red) everywhere, some of which take up both pages, with maps, and three-dimensional cutaways, and an odd sock collection and, of course, lots of pictures of Ottoline and Mr. Munroe. And many of the pictures have little labels, some relevant to the plot, some apropos of nothing much, such as the one pointing out “a mouse called Robert that Mr. Munroe came across in the kitchen last Thursday.” It is absurd, it is smart, and it is also rather sweet.
The reading level is about the same as the Eloise books. It is perfect for the accomplished five-year-old girl (me as a child). And it works really, really well as an independent reading book for an eight-year-old boy with an iffy attention span (all the bits of writing in the drawings are perfect), who can read long words just fine, but who has not yet become comfortable reading longer, more chaptery, books to himself, and who needs reassurance that yes, he is a reader (this was proven at my house last week). Another book that works well this way is Mammoth Academy, by Neil Layton (also from the UK), reviewed here by Jen Robinson.
There are two more books about Ottoline coming—Ottoline Goes to School, and Ottoline at Sea. This makes me happy, because I like smart, spunky Ottoline very much, and I love Mr. Munroe, who is now my second favorite fictional troll (no one can top Moomintroll).
Ottoline and the Yellow Cat has been nominated for the Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.
A nice thing about looking to see who else has reviewed a book is finding new blogs that intrigue--here's a review at Children's Books: What, When, and How to Read Them. And here's another review from my co-panelist Amanda, at Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.
Incidentally, Chris Riddell is one of the co-creators of the Edge Series, which I have never read, but which seem like a good thing to try on my 8 year old in the coming months...opinions, and other recommendations, welcome!