Book Review: Wolves and Goldfish with Neil Gaiman

“If the wolves come out of the walls, then it’s all over.”
“What’s all over?” asked Lucy.
“It,” said her mother. “Everybody knows that.”

Every now and then our children bring home badly written corporate books from the library, and I roll my terrible eyes and gnash my terrible teeth! The world is full of fabulous children’s books, and there is no excuse for a book “written” by Nickelodeon, Disney, or Mattel. Book length advertisements, and we’re supposed to pay for them. I think not. So, since I have an opinion about this (1) and in my quest for a Post a Day, I will be highlighting some of the Good Books I have discovered over the years.

The best children’s books are works of art that entice, engage, and enthrall. They teach by example, not by telling. They don’t say, “Language is beautiful if you get the cadence right.” They just get the cadence right. Alliteration, meter, rhyme, and word play all come naturally to children when they are exposed to good books all along.

You might know Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean from their graphic novels, DC comics, Sandman, or their two books that have been made into movies (Coraline and Mirrormask). They have also written and illustrated two wonderful picture books for slightly older children, and I can wholeheartedly recommend them. They came to us from a friend of the family who aspires to be the quirky aunt who introduces the children to great art. She’s doing an excellent job so far.

This links to a very interesting article by the illustrator on the art process.

The Wolves in the Walls is darkly humorous, vividly and dynamically illustrated, and enormously fun to read aloud. The main character, Lucy, is a wee heroine, about 6 or 8 years old. Maybe 10. Her parents are oddly quirky and amusingly incompetent. Our children love the story, and I love the mixed-media artwork. It is immersive. (As it is sitting beside me on the desk, I’ve just had a request for a reading from the 3-y.o., who reads the title and cover with Great Gravitas. “Loook! A wolf is looking out of his drawing!”) In case you are concerned about content, it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds, certainly not any worse than our traditional fairy tales.

Just to keep things balanced, this links to the author's website.

This is a kids’ story. By that, I mean, this is the kind of story that we would have told as kids. The parents are nearly incidental, except as possessions to be swapped, and thwarters of brilliant ideas. And really, for children of a certain age, isn’t that what we are to become? After the unfortunate “swapping” incident is discovered by the (thwarting) mom, the remainder of the book becomes a quest to retrieve the missing dad (complete with maps including children’s landmarks… such as the neighbour’s cat). My kids love this book, AND I can enjoy reading it several evenings a month. In the world of children’s literature, that is a winning combination.

I am not one to give away the plot, especially when the humour of the book depends upon it. Suffice it to say that these books are both well worth picking up and enjoying. Possibly with a strawberry jam sandwich.

1. Or according to an irate great-aunt with whom I once had the audacity to disagree, about everything.

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