________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 17 . . . . April 27, 2001

cover Fred's Midnight Prowler. (First Novel Series).

Marie-Danielle Croteau. Illustrated by Bruno St-Aubin. Translated by Sarah Cummins.
Halifax, NS: Formac, 2000.
64 pp., pbk. & cl. $5.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88780-522-1 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88780-523-X (cl.).

Grades 3 - 5 / Ages 8 - 10.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

**1/2 /4


Then we came to the end of a dead-end street, and there were no more clues.

There was a little grey house, as silent and slumbering as the others - maybe more so. Hunched over on itself, it looked as if the sun must never reach inside.

"It looks like a haunted house," whispered Jessie. "I bet a witch lives there. Maybe that was the witch's cat we were following. That would explain why it disappeared so suddenly. It probably went right through the wall!"

"Come now!" Gran interrupted. "You're going to give yourselves nightmares. Let's head back home."

None of us liked that place and we were glad to leave. But since we were all thirsty, we decided to have a drink first. Gran turned around so we could take the water bottles out of her backpack.

At that very instant, a mournful squeak pierced the night. We looked toward the house. The side door was slowly closing as a black-and-white shadow slipped inside.

image What is Fred's cat Rick up to when he disappears every night? Only one way to find out - follow him, Gran Jackie suggests. With friends Jessie and Miguel, they track Rick to a small house, and Fred believes he's been catnapped. In fact, Rick has taken on the role of adoptive mother hen, warming a nest full of rare eggs brought by a gypsy family from Rumania. Fred ends up with a crush on the gypsy girl who "borrowed" his cat.

      The characters are diverse and likeable. Fred has appeared in several previous stories in the Formac "First Novels" series. Gran Jackie is a lively character with her skating outfit of "purple leggings, pink roller-blades with gold sequins...she looked like the atomic ant in cartoons." This book is written in first person, past tense which should let the reader identify with the main character. However, the writing (a translation) is uneven with frequent passages where the passive voice is overused: "We were sitting...I was worried...Rick had been spending...I was feeling." This approach tends to slow the pace and distance the reader. It also makes the reading tedious. In addition, cliches turn up too often: "work like a dog," "built like a rake," "tough as old boots." Occasional difficult (for the intended age) vocabulary is used: proffering, accentuated, discombobulated.

      The opening chapters promise an action-filled story. Suspense is created early in this mystery with the nighttime, in-line skate/search party and the spooky description of the house. Unfortunately, the later chapters do not carry it through. The plot is somewhat contrived, and the momentum suffers once the house is located. Everyone avoids the obvious move, going to the door. It does not seem totally credible that caution would completely neutralize curiosity in kids that age. They all end up eating ice cream in Gran's friend's nearby apartment, letting the suspense melt away. Fred wanders off in the wrong direction, gets lost for a whole chapter and does nothing to help himself. He is returned to the starting point by Gran's mechanic. This scene is a distraction which introduces an unnecessary character and does not advance the plot. The mystery is solved half-way through Chapter 6 (of only 7 short chapters) with another complete chapter devoted to the resolution. But Fred does not appear to have learned anything meaningful through the course of the story. Rick returned home of his own accord, once his temporary job was finished.


Gillian Richardson, who lives in BC, is a former teacher-librarian and a published children's writer of fiction and nonfiction.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364