I admit it. I tend to root for the well-dressed baddies. I always have. When I was a child I would secretly root for Captain Hook over that snide, arrogant Peter Pan boy. And Cruella de Ville? Sure, I couldn’t support her love of puppy-wear, but that lady knew how to wrap a stole, that’s for sure. So when I see a villain with a certain personal flair and sense of style, I feel an odd sort of sympathy and connection. A sympathy and connection that definitely came up more than once while reading There’s a Wolf at the Door by Zoe and R.W. Alley. Expertly weaving together five different fairy tales with a single (unlucky) villain, Alley & Alley create a product that’s part picture book, part graphic novel, and pretty amusing from start to finish.
Little known fact: You know that wolf that pops up in The Three Little Pigs? How about the one in The Boy Who Cried Wolf or Little Red Riding Hood? Would you believe that it was a same guy who also appears in The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing or The Wolf and the Seven Little Goslings? Turns out that this wolf has had a fairly rough and tumble day. After losing out his delicious pig dinner the furry fop tries his hand at a boy and his sheep. When the sheep prove to be smarter than the boy (no great feat) the wolf moves on to Little Red (getting a snoutful o’ shoe), the sheep again (in disguise), and a houseful of goslings. Each time the wolf is thwarted in his attempts, finally deciding on a life of peaceful vegetarianism… and potential thrashing at others’ hands.
We are definitely dealing with five distinct fairy tales here (with some double backing for good measure) so you may feel a little bit surprised when you find that there are only 34 pages of text here from start to finish. It feels like a whole lot more, and that may have a lot to do with the sheer amount of material Alley & Alley have been able to cram in. For one thing, you’re looking at a 14-inch book that’s taller than its average 10-inch fellows. On top of that is the whole comic paneling appeal. You can work in a ton of text and dialogue if you’ve a panel or two to place them in. So while it might remain as trim and slim as any other book found in a picture book collection There’s a Wolf at the Door makes for a long read. Bear this in mind when your canny kidlets attempt to coerce you in reading the whole thing before beddy bye.
R.W. Alley’s illustrations first came to my attention when he took the helm of the Paddington illustrated empire. His recent work on Paddington Here and Now so perfectly captured the little Peruvian bear’s personality and charm that I was utterly thrilled to find his name gracing the cover of this book too. The choice to make it a comic was unexpected. Due to the sheer amount of text I suppose it could have gotten away as a young reader or early chapter book. But this suits it better, I think. There aren’t any wordless passages, which I found interesting. Usually a graphic format will allow its artist a little leniency once in a while. A chance to stretch their artistic muscles. And while I enjoyed the cut aways and select panels, I did wish that there had been a bit more change in terms of angles of perception. It seems to me that everything in this book happens dead on. You rarely see things from anything but the side of the action. How much cooler it would be to look down on things or to watch them from below. Ah well. A quibble, a quibble.
I’ve heard Ms. Alley’s storytelling compared to the snarkiness one would find in a Shrek movie. Honestly, I don’t think that this is the case. Yes, the book attempts to rejigger the storylines of individual tales by adding a whole host of different personalities into the mix. Now the Boy Who Called Wolf has attention issues and his sheep are prone to touchy feely displays of emotion. Little Red is a fashion maven (which gives her something in common with the wolf) and the three pigs are pretty much par for the course. I was fine with most of these changes, though I found the inclusion of the story The Wolf and the Seven Little Goslings to be one tale too many. Street smart goslings aren’t my cuppa tea, you see.
Librarians may wonder whether or not the book can be read aloud to large groups of kids in its current format. And the answer is . . . maybe. It’s certainly not impossible, and the advantage to a title this tall is that it will read far better across a room than similar picture book/comic titles like the wordless The Red Book. Even so, the sheer length of the thing suggests that this would be better suited to good old-fashioned one-one-one reads.
It might be a good idea to read There’s a Wolf at the Door with a child and then follow that reading up with Mei Matsuoka’s equally canny and lupine-centric Footprints in the Snow, for a full-on wolf to wolf readaloud experience. Both books offer a pretty sympathetic view of the plight of the antagonist (and his empty belly). Wolves are some of the best villains in humankind’s history so it’s nice to see Alley & Alley giving us a new way of looking at this dapper scourge in a new presentation.
On shelves now.
- Read the first six pages in their entirety over at the First Second website.
- Through shifty manipulations of my own I have managed to discover that there will be a sequel to this book due out at some point in the future. The title? There’s a Princess in the Castle. FYI.
- If you hop on over to R.W. Alley’s website you can read the starred Kirkus and Booklist reviews in their entirety.