As a child some of my favourite books were John Burningham's simple square white 'The Dog', 'The Baby' etc books. As a parent I've really loved reading aloud the Mr Gumpy books, which my children love, and Aldo, which I adore but my daughter is a bit troubled by, she is fully alive to the subtext of parents who argue and bullying by other children, and it seems to make her very unhappy. I think it's brilliant.
To return to this book, it has all the joy of Burningham's optimistic books like Borka, but also some of his brilliant edge. Marie Elaine wonders where cats go at night, and is allowed to follow hers on an adventurous night. It has lots of detail that children love, like the children who go with the cat are given presents by the Queen of the Cats. The paintings are, I think, his loveliest, amazing use of colour in the night time scenes. There are several genuinely funny jokes. There's a lovely down to earth presentation of magic: Malcolm the cat says 'you have to get small', and so Marie Elaine 'got small', so she could fit through the catflap. No explanation. None needed.
My elder daughter most loved this when she had just turned 3, and she likes books a bit older than her age group. My younger daughter likes books a bit younger than her age group and at 2 doesn't have the attention span for it, so I would say 3-4 is best age. For parents who get a bit hoarse-throated reading books with lots of words (I'm looking at you, Borka!), this, refreshingly, has a few pages with lovely pictures and no words. Hurray!
We're big fans of John Burningham in this house, and this book doesn't disappoint. The illustrations are fantastic; they alone are enough to get a child's imagination going. The story is sweet and straight forward, with that pinch of magic that runs through so much of John Burninghams's work. Definitely works for us!