Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey by Eddie Muller

Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey
TCM Kid Noir
by Eddie Muller and Jessica Schmidt
illustrated by Forrest Burdett
Running Press Kids and TCM
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762481682
32 pages
4 years and up
September 2023

"My name is Kitty Feral. I was a gumshoe with no shoes, but I quit that racket. But when I overheard Cora talking about the missing Marshmallow Monkey, it was too sweet to ignore."

In his first picture book for children, Eddie Muller—along with writer Jessica Schmidt and illustrator Forrest Burdett—offers budding classic movie enthusiasts a kid-friendly introduction to film noir.

Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey is a mystery in the style of The Maltese Falcon (1941). The story a two-fold mystery with hardboiled detective Kitty Feral solving the case of the stolen chocolate covered Marshmallow Monkey while also trying to locate his missing partner, Mitch the Mutt. We follow along as Kitty Feral roams the dark city streets searching for answers.

Published by by TCM and Running Press Kids, Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey is a delightful ode to film noir and a must-have for noir enthusiasts, especially those who want to instill a love of classic movies in their children.

The book is chock full of film noir references. The endpapers display animal-inspired noir posters for movies like Nut Crazy, He Squawked by Night and The Possum Always Rings Twice. Kitty Feral visits the Acme Book Shop—a hat-tip to the famous bookstore sequence in The Big Sleep (1946). I spotted references to noirs like Deadline at Dawn (1946), On Dangerous Ground (1951) and I Walk Alone (1947) and to actors like Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Gloria Grahame and Dorothy Malone. There are even references to non-noir classics like The Leopard Man (1943) and On the Waterfront (1954). Visual clues make this book a veritable treasure hunt for children (the villains are referenced on almost every page) as well as adult noir enthusiasts.

The style of the book is very fitting with film noir aesthetics. It features a limited color palette of black-and-white with pops of color. Kitty Feral wears a blue fedora and trenchcoat, Mitch the Mutt wears a red collar and the two are seen enjoying the multi-colored sunrise, signaling the end of the story's nighttime adventure.

Interior spread courtesy of Running Press Kids via Edelweiss

Interior spread courtesy of Running Press Kids via Edelweiss

The backmatter includes a single page entitled What is Film Noir which gives young readers the fundamentals of understanding noir. It explains why film noir was often black-and-white, the meanings behind certain terms and a gentle introduction to character and story types.

As a read aloud story this book has a lot of potential. I do wish the narrative flowed a bit better. There are a couple of awkward points in the narrative that could have easily been fixed. A design error on page 25 obscures one moment of dialogue. With that said, I read this book several times out loud and found that experience quite enjoyable. This book would make for a great bedtime story or read aloud for a group storytime. You'll want to develop character voices for Kitty Feral (who is also the narrator), Casper the Nighthawk, Polly the Bookstore Guard Dog, Mitch the Mutt and Lucky Lapin the mob bunny.

I hope Kitty Feral is the first of a series. I can see many more mysteries for Kitty Feral and Mitch the Mutt to solve and plenty of noir references to make.

Thank you to Running Press Kids for sending me a copy of Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey for review!

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