Archive | October 2018

A Job for Wittilda, by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner

A Job for Wittilda, by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner

“There were cats on the table, cats on the chairs, cats on the sofa, the bookshelves, the stairs!” But unfortunately, poor Wittilda is out of food to feed her enormous collection of 47 cats. You’d think a witch would just magically whip up 47 bowls of cat food – but she tries a different approach. Wittilda heads out into the modern economy, and just tries to land herself a day job!

It’s funny that she has 47 cats, and it’s also funny to watch her adventures in the workforce. But “A Job for Wittilda” also gets some of its humor from the slick illustrations by artist Mark Buehner. There’s big-eyed cats, and they prowl through the witch’s cabinet, or perch in a long line across the back of her chair. And Wittilda herself wears jeweled horn-rimmed glasses – over a cutely-drawn bulbous nose.

But for a witch, she leads a surprisingly ordinary life. Wittilda gets a job at her aunt’s hairdresser’s shop. (Though she’s fired after weaving the woman’s hair into an enormous spider web pattern – and adding a real spider for extra effect.) She gets another chance to earn money for his pets, but this one is even more ordinary. Wittilda tries out for a job as a pizza delivery person.

There’s some rhymes on the first page, which set a lively tone. (Though I still think the cats were the most exciting thing about the book.) But the plot’s tension rises with a pizza delivering-showdown. If Wittilda can beat every one of the other delivery-boy candidates, she’ll finally be able to earn the cats’ dinner money. And fortunately, she’s got a secret weapon. She can deliver them on a broom that flies…

It’s one of the first children’s picture books by Mark Buehner’s wife Caralyn, and it was finished shortly after “Escape of Marvin the Ape.” And it seems like Mark is trying extra hard to make the book entertaining, while also appealing to fans of the earlier book. “Eagle-eyed young readers will also find a bonus of laughter in the antics of the alert little mouse and the cheerful spider in each picture,” notes the book’s jacket, “as well as other animals (including Marvin, who makes a cameo appearance) hidden in the cloud and elsewhere.” This book is called “A Job for Wittilda,” but it all comes down to her big pizza-delivery adventure.

Unfortunately, just as she’s about to win the contest, she spots a stray cat that’s trapped in a tree…

Step Into the Night, by Joanne Ryder

Step Into the Night, by Joanne Ryder

The book’s jacket describes the text as “haunting,” and it captures some real-world wonders. Step Into the Night pulls the reader up close to small animals lurking in a forest, but it’s more intimate than a simple description. The author actually invites the reader to become each animal, using a writing trick that visits their life in the darkness. The book’s manuscript was even reviewed by the American Museum of Natural History!

The sun “hides behind dark rooftops,” and grayness creeps, darkening everything – the fences, the bushes, the trees. But the night is alive, writes author Joanne Ryder, and “All around you, others are hiding.” A little girl stands against a tree, waiting for night and pretending to be part of the tree. But soon the “you” is addressed to the animals she sees.

“Under the vines you creep, your nose twitching, leading you to something wonderful…” A mouse spies berries, described as “soft” and “eat-me red.” And honoring the mouse’s perspective, Ryder writes that “The first berries seem always the sweetest, the best.”

There’s a moon over the forest, but another light flickers in the trees – and now the perspective is that of a firefly.

“Will she see your tiny light? Will she answer?” Soon a pattern develops – before each animal’s page, there’s another page describing hints of its presence in the night. The scent of flowers suggest opening buds, but then another scent suggests a skunk! “Let the striped one have the right of way. Let it walk where it wishes. Let it be alone.” The moon escapes a cloud, revealing a spider’s web. “Spider time is slow waiting for meals to fly to you…”

The little girl and a passing dog both hear a high-pitched sound up high – a bat. (“As you fly, you call and listen to the echoes of your cries…”) Was there something moving in the ground? The narrator knows it’s a mole, “swimming through the soil, diving deeper into the safe earth.” There’s frogs, “a singer floating in the darkness.” But soon there’s one final voice – the little girl’s mother, calling her home.

The book sides with the night creatures, and the return home is a disappointment. The magic of the night must be left behind, and “Now the moon follows you up the path to your door, and you leave the nigh behind…” The little girl blinks at the shock of the house’s bright lights, and she won’t enter without first acknowledging all the other creatures. (“Good night! Good night, everyone!”)

She really has stepped into the night, and though she ultimately returns home – it’s with the memories of every one of the other animals that she’s seen and been.