Friday, November 03, 2006

Wolves - by Emily Gravett

You might think I have a demented sense of humor for saying this, but Wolves is one of my favorite picture books of the year! Wolves begins with a rabbit going to the library to check out a book about wolves.

As rabbit begins to read the book and is drawn into it, the illustrations of the pages that rabbit is viewing in the book get larger and the reader's apprehension over what's going to happen grows until it looks like this (which sort of reminds me of how the illustrations in Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are grow as the story progresses and Max becomes wild).

The text on this page says, "Wolves eat mainly meat. They hunt large prey such as deer, bison and moose. They also enjoy smaller mammals, like beavers, voles and . . . "

You guessed it, "rabbits." I love this illustration because it's not too scary, but it clearly communicates what happened to rabbit.

At this point I know some of you are thinking, "What? This is a children's picture book?" and that is probably why the author included this note on the next page, "The author would like to point out that no rabbits were eaten during the making of this book. It it a work of fiction. And so, for more sensitive readers, here is an alternative ending." After which, we see this illustration with an explanation that this wolf was a vegetarian who shared lunch with rabbit and they became best friends.

Of course, readers who closely examine the next spread will not buy the alternative ending as it shows rabbit's doormat cover with mail that includes a notice for rabbit's overdue copy of Wolves.

I think most kids will find this book very funny. I thought it was rather clever, but the element of the book that I fell in love with was its design. The text of the book doesn't stand alone, it's the pictures that develop it further, as they should in every good picture book. And they make such wonderful use of white space (or cream space in this case) which is rare in the overstimulating picture books we often see these days. The book designer paid attention to every possible detail, even the publication information was formatted to look like a part of rabbit's story. The critical praise on the back cover is all made up to tie in with the story and rabbit puns abound, for example, "'A rip-roaring tail.' - The Hareold"

It's too bad that the author/illustrator is British because I think this book would have been a big contender for the Caldecott Medal, which tends to reward books that challenge the normal format of picture books and have engaging illustrations.


Anonymous said...

Hi Stephanie, I came across your blog when doing some research on Emily Gravett. Wolves is also one of my favourite picture books and I hope to use it as part of my research with children (am doing a MPhil in Children's Literature). Some adults are concerned that it might be too scary for children, but consider the violent content which children are exposed to from various mediums on a daily basis! I think it is a beautifully written and illustrated book. You would also like Meerkat Mail and Little Mouse's Big Books of Fears.

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