Kitten and the Night Watchman

Kitten and the Night Watchman, by John Sullivan, Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 2018

Publisher’s description: “A stray kitten changes the way the watchman sees nighttime in this tender book based on a true story, illustrated by Strictly No Elephants artist Taeeun Yoo.”

It’s not everyday you find a picture book with an adult main character. I think this one works for two reasons: The night watchman is gentle and curious, an adult a child can trust. And the other main character – the kitten – is childlike and relatable. The kitten is a cute baby, vulnerable and in need of love and protection.

This book is an excellent example of “showing not telling.” It evokes a series of strong emotions without ever mentioning any of them by name. Initially, both the language and the pictures transport you to a magical nighttime world. The night watchman and his new kitten friend explore the worksite as Killdeer “Ki-Dee,” stars twinkle, “garbage trucks line up like circus elephants,” and an “excavator bows like a strange giraffe.”

When the kitten goes missing, the tone shifts to one of worry and danger. Suddenly, the night watchman is aware of all the dangers afoot. Dogs bark aggressively in the dark, a car races down the street, and a train clacks menacingly in the distance.

Ever kind and gentle, the night watchman releases a moth into the night, only to find that the kitten has returned. The sweet ending evokes a satisfied feeling of love and belonging – both in the story and the artwork.

Debut author John Sullivan teamed up with the experienced and very talented, Taeeun Yoo, whose illustrations are beautiful, imaginative, and emotionally resonant. The colors change as dusk turns to night, and back to day again, perfectly matching the tone of the text, and adding to the emotional resonance.

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