August 14, 2008


Coraline. By Neil Gaiman. Adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell. HarperCollins. $17.99.

Warriors: Cats of the Clans. By Erin Hunter. Illustrated by Wayne McLoughlin. HarperCollins. $15.99.

      Both Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Erin Hunter’s Warriors series are so well imagined – Gaiman’s work especially so – that readers can easily envision their characters and events. But both these illustrated works – one a graphic novel, the other a character guide – add significantly to the original Gaiman and Hunter writings through their elegance and excellent visualizations. This is especially surprising in the case of Coraline, a genuinely spooky story of a girl who goes through a mysterious door and finds her way to a world controlled by her “other mother,” a deeply sinister creature of uncertain provenance. Gaiman is an excellent wordsmith, and it is hard to imagine that the frights that he calls up in readers’ minds could be equaled by a specific set of illustrations. But P. Craig Russell gets to the heart of Coraline, whether showing the scarily gnarled hands of the “other mother” or her absurd (and quite frightening) button eyes. Whether portraying the ghosts of young children, who help Coraline and are helped by her, or the misshapen rats that carry out the bidding of the “other mother,” or the grublike monster that chases the young girl around a cellar as she tries to escape, Russell gets the appearances right. He gets the settings right, too, notably when Gaiman explains how, as Coraline tries to get away from the house of the “other mother,” the landscape becomes less and less realistic and the trees progressively less treelike. Coraline’s eventual escape – and the final horror she must confront in her own world – are as well imagined as is the mysterious cat who helps her (and is helped by her in turn) in the world of the “other mother.” One caution for families: like Gaiman’s book, Russell’s graphic novel is recommended for ages eight and up – but in both cases, the story will be too intense for younger readers. Ten-and-up is a more realistic age range for this chilling tale.

      The age range suggested for Warriors: Cats of the Clans is 10 and up already, although most of this guide to Hunter’s heroes and villains is far less intense than anything in Coraline. Wayne McLoughlin’s illustrations are especially welcome in this book, whose framing story involves an ancestor cat telling the tales of the clans to three kittens who were recent victims of battles. A difficulty with Hunter’s novels is that there are so many characters that it can be hard to keep them straight; and not all of them are much beyond one-dimensionality. In this book, the major characters (and some of the less-major ones) really come to life, with McLoughlin giving each cat a different physical appearance and a different facial expression as well. Firestar, for example, has far-seeing eyes and an amazingly alert appearance, while Sandstorm is not only sand-colored but also cool and intense in gaze. Warriors: Cats of the Clans includes detailed forest and lake maps and discussions of each clan as a whole, in addition to pages about individual cats. There are also explanations of “Cats Outside the Clans,” and some discussion – within the pages profiling individual cats – of the battles among the clans and the uneasy relationships between clan cats and “kittypets.” Although certainly not comprehensive – Hunter has created far too many characters for any short book to encompass them all – McLoughlin’s work provides an excellent introduction to the Warriors world. Even readers who already know the stories will find these pictures and capsule descriptions both entertaining and helpful.

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