It's a Secret!

It's a Secret!

by John Burningham
What if you were as small as your cat — and took off with him on a nighttime adventure? A gorgeously illustrated tale from the award-winning John Burningham.

Every night Marie-Elaine’s cat, Malcolm, goes out, and every morning he comes back in and sleeps. "Where do cats go at night?" the girl wonders. So when she sees him at his cat door


What if you were as small as your cat — and took off with him on a nighttime adventure? A gorgeously illustrated tale from the award-winning John Burningham.

Every night Marie-Elaine’s cat, Malcolm, goes out, and every morning he comes back in and sleeps. "Where do cats go at night?" the girl wonders. So when she sees him at his cat door dressed to the nines, she begs to come along. And amazingly, Malcolm agrees — as long as she puts on her fancy clothes, gets small, and keeps it all a secret. With a whimsical story and breathtaking artwork, the acclaimed John Burningham takes us on an exciting night’s journey, braving hoodlum dogs and precarious climbs for a rooftop party that is cause for celebration indeed.

Editorial Reviews

Daniel Handler
Expecting a classic from Burningham is like expecting one from Beethoven—he's already given us plenty—but with It's a Secret! he outdoes even Mr. Gumpy's Outing…the book is everything you want in a journey—a familiar face, a grave danger, tricky maneuvers, elegant delectables, some trail marks so you know you can find your way home and, yes, a wonderful secret, which like all good secrets points to more secrets and the big, dark secret world in which we live. It's a Secret! is a perfect night, one that knows when to give a party and when to stay silent…and Burningham, in plot and in painting, knows when to color in the lines and when to leave them stark and empty.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Burningham (Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present) treats readers to a whimsical nighttime romp. Marie Elaine wonders where her cat goes when he slips outside at night-and one evening she finds out. When she discovers him wearing a stylish crimson jacket and a brimmed hat and plume, the cat admits he's going to a party, "but I can't say where because it's a secret." Promising to keep his secret, the child begs to go along and he agrees. Obediently, she dons party clothes and shrinks to his size when instructed to "get small." Neighbor Norman spies them sneaking out from his window ("Let me come... or I'll tell") and the three navigate their way past threatening dogs (one wearing a pink hooded sweatshirt) to reach the urban rooftop party. A mix of pastel-infused sketches and bold images in robust hues, the buoyant mixed-media art reveals the gala in full swing. Costumed cats dance and dine before a brilliant scarlet sky signals the breaking dawn and the revelers head home. The plainspoken, childlike narration makes this dreamlike tale all the more approachable. Ages 3-6. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Marie Elaine wonders where her cat Malcolm goes every night. One night, as she sees him all dressed up in his red coat and green, feathered hat, she begs to be allowed to join him. After she dresses up as well and magically makes herself small, she and Malcolm are spotted leaving by Norman Kowalski. He threatens to tell unless they take him too. After they all sneak past a gang of dogs, they finally arrive at the party. They join in the fun, welcome the Queen of Cats, enjoy a midnight feast, and receive gifts. When they arrive back home, Marie Elaine is so tired she falls asleep on the sofa. Her mother notes that she looks as if she was out all night with the cat. She says she was, but where he goes remains a secret. Burningham's mixed-media approach is evident on the jacket, where we see the adventurous trio as sketchy paper cut-outs against a scumbled nighttime landscape. Nervous black lines form the characters while thicker, sketchier lines define the milieu. The action is conveyed in mainly double-page scenes in dramatic fashion against a black night sky. The anthropomorphic felines' departure visualized against a bright red dawn is particularly effective. The large format gives ample space for Burningham's masterful fantasy. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal

PreS-Gr 1

Marie Elaine wonders what her cat, Malcolm, does at night that causes him to sleep all day. When she goes down to the kitchen late one night and finds him all dressed up to go out, she asks to come along. He agrees as long as she "gets small," and he takes her and her neighbor Norman to a secret cat party on the rooftops, where they dance, feast, and meet the queen of the cats. Burningham's signature sketchy mixed-media illustrations are a good fit for the dreamlike story, as is the off-kilter logic of the text ("Marie Elaine got small, and they went out of the house through the cat door"). The artist uses color to great effect; when the child is in her normal daytime world, the illustrations feature little background information, but the rooftop world of the cat's party is awash in color and fanciful detail. This simple fantasy captures the pleasant feel of a dream, but without providing a strong emotional connection to the characters, it is likely to be as easily forgotten upon waking.-Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, Carroll County Public Library, MD

Kirkus Reviews
Do cats sleep all day because they go somewhere at night? Young Marie Elaine wonders-until the night she comes downstairs for a cold drink and spots her cat Malcolm dressed in party clothes. Reluctantly he allows her to tag along-if she dresses nicely and "gets small"-to a rooftop soiree that features balloons, dancing and even a banquet with the Queen of the Cats. A brief flight from some particularly raffish-looking dogs (cf. Nina Laden's The Night I Followed the Dog, 1994) adds further excitement to the outing. Using cut-paper figures and scribbly, thinly applied colors, Burningham illustrates the venture with sketchy scenes of back alleys, urban skylines and feline conviviality. Next morning Marie Elaine's mom finds her sacked out on the sofa, right next to the snoozing Malcolm. Bruce Ingman's Night on the Tiles (1999) offers a similar (if busier and more urbane) revelation, but the simpler plot and bigger pictures here will reveal the secret to larger and younger audiences. (Picture book. 4-6)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.80(w) x 11.40(h) x 0.30(d)
AD610L (what's this?)
Age Range:
3 - 7 Years

Meet the Author

John Burningham, a two-time winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, is the authorillustrator of numerous picture books, including HARVEY SLUMFENBURGER'S CHRISTMAS PRESENT. He lives in London.

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