Encore, Opera Cat! By Tess Weaver. Illustrated by Andréa Wesson. Clarion. $16.
Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin. By Tad Hills. Schwartz & Wade. $6.99.
Encore, Opera Cat! really is an encore: Tess Weaver and Andréa Wesson’s first book about the musical feline was simply called Opera Cat. In this sequel, the talented Alma tires of singing only within the confines of Madame SoSo’s apartment – a complete layout of which opens the book. Alma “dreamed of singing onstage…thrilling people with her voice.” But this is not so simple for a cat, and even when Madame SoSo decides that she really must tell Maestro about Alma and arrange for a human-feline duet, things do not go well: Maestro is preoccupied, “checking to see if she had a fever” when Madame SoSo becomes insistent. So cat and diva hatch a plan to disguise Alma and bring her on stage in Switzerland; but things get derailed, so to speak, when they try to board the train and Madame SoSo is told that pets are not allowed with people and Alma must travel in the baggage car. “It was a long, cold ride” for Alma, and then there is a problem with her disguise, which cannot conceal her whiskers, feline paws or tail – or the fact that she is, after all, the size of a cat. It is only when the dejected Alma makes a wrong turn and finds herself accidentally on stage – to the astonishment of Maestro, the orchestra and the audience – that this cat’s impossible dream comes true. Alma sings as wonderfully as Madame SoSo always knew she would: “I’ve never heard anyone sing about love with such passion,” says Maestro after the performance. In both narration and illustration, this is an utterly delightful fairy tale – and the two-page spread showing how “opera has never been the same since” Alma’s triumph, complete with dogs and cats galore enjoying the ambience of the opera house, is simply marvelous. Now what will Weaver and Wesson do for another encore?
Tad Hills creates sequel after sequel in his ongoing stories of the small-bodied, huge-beaked Duck and Goose, with Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin being a board book with an autumnal twist. Filled with orange and other fall colors, it is a typically simple Hills story: the two friends search for a pumpkin after they find another friend, Thistle, carrying one. But Duck and Goose aren’t quite sure where pumpkins come from – a leaf pile, an apple tree, under water? So they search and search without success until Thistle suggests they try…a pumpkin patch, where they manage to discover one so big that it takes both of them to lift and carry it. Easy to read, charmingly written with minimal text, and illustrated with Hills’ usual expressiveness (he does great things with eyes and the tilt of an avian head), Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin is more than a seasonal treat – it’s another delicious helping of friendship on the cute side.