Charles de Lint has been one of my favorite writers since I read The Little Country back in the early 90s. Some of his books are traditional fantasy novels, and they are good, but the ones I like the most are the urban fantasy novels set in Newford. They have a fascinating blend of native American mythology and religion along with more traditional Western fantasy themes. He has written numerous short story collections, and those are fun because they often include stories about characters from other books, and it's always interesting to see which characters will turn up.
A Circle of Cats is his first book for children, and while I read it and enjoyed it (and the gorgeous, evocative illustrations) when it was initially published, tonight I read it to my own children for the first time. I'd been planning on reading half now, half tomorrow, but the vehement protests that they just had to find out what was going to happen kept me reading through to the end.
The heroine is 12-year-old Lillian, who lives with her elderly aunt in a house at the edge of nowhere, far removed from the rest of the world but with a vast area of woods, overgrown orchard, streams and meadows for her to explore (once her chores are done). She is a kind-hearted, imaginative girl, longing to see the fairies she knows must be there, offering food to the woodland creatures. When she stops for a nap and is bitten by a snake, the forest cats gather around her as she lies dying. She's always been kind to them, and they want to save her somehow. But how? Turn her into something that's not dying, of course. Lillian wakes to find she has become a calico kitten. Better an alive kitten than a dead girl -- but she knows her aunt needs her, and she must find a way to turn back into a girl again.
This book is suitable for older children (at least 6 years old and up), because although it does have lots of beautiful illustrations, there is also a lot of text. It is not a picture book for preschoolers.
If I were to recommend a de Lint book to Virginia Gal (and anyone else in need of a nice romantic angle), I would say to try Medicine Road. I think you'd enjoy that one, VA Gal!
A Circle of Cats by Charles de Lint; illustrated by Charles Vess (Viking, 2003)