Little Wise Wolf
Little Wise Wolf
Dear Wise Wolf,
I am very ill. Only you can make me better.
“No time!” shouted Little Wise Wolf. “There’s a plant I need to research. And a big book to finish reading. And I think I’ve just found a new star. I’m really rather busy right now.”
“When the king calls, you have to come,” said the crow.
In Little Wise Wolf, Gijs van der Hammen and Hanneke Siemensma have crafted a beautiful not-quite-cautionary tale about the value of intelligence, wisdom, and friendship. Little Wise Wolf loves to read. He knows a lot about many things, but when he is summoned to heal the ailing king, he must put his book smarts to the test. On his way to the palace, Little Wise Wolf starts to worry that he may not be so smart after all. His friends, for whom he has not had much time with all the reading he’s been doing, end up helping him out. Little Wise Wolf comes to realize the value of different types of knowledge and the importance of friendship.
The prose in this picture book is wonderful. There are some nuanced themes, but the level of language used makes them accessible even to young children. Beautifully translated from the original Dutch by Laura Watkinson, this title is sure to be popular with fans of fables, fairy tales, and classic picture books. The text is engaging and well-paced, and despite images of an (albeit old-timey) airplane and a bus, the book has a timeless quality to it. This is perhaps what gives the book its fable-like quality, though its lessons are more subtle than a traditional fable. The creators seem to be more interested in displaying the natural consequences of certain behaviours rather than moralizing. This is one of the aspects that makes this a particularly successful picture book.
The illustrations by Hanneke Siemensma are gorgeous. Backgrounds tend to be muted greys, greens, and blues. Many of the illustrations are rather subdued, with little pops of colour, such as Little Wise Wolf’s bright red boots. There is plenty of texture to the images, and an impressive and wonderful sense of depth attained by varying levels of opacity in the illustrations. Many components, especially foliage and grasses, seem to be done by printmaking. There appear to be several other illustrative mediums coming into play, including ink, and possibly pastel. Readers who enjoy the texture, techniques, and tone of Jon Klassen’s work will enjoy Siemensma’s, though her style is distinctly her own. Younger readers may enjoy poring over the illustrations for fine details and tracing the dotted lines that show Little Wise Wolf’s path through the wild.
While Little Wise Wolf is beautifully written and illustrated, it is the questions that it raises and themes that it explores that truly elevate it: questions like whether knowledge has value if it isn’t shared and the difference between knowledge and wisdom (Little Wise Wolf has plenty of knowledge, but when thrown into the wild or presented with the king’s illness, he doubts his abilities to put knowledge into practice). It addresses the validity of different forms of knowledge, showing Little Wise Wolf’s friends, who always have questions for him, helping him out along his journey. Ultimately, though, this story highlights the importance of balance. Little Wise Wolf doesn’t end up cursing himself for spending too much time with books or throwing them all away; he simply ends up spending more time with his friends. He still reads a lot, but, as the text illustrates, after finding this balance, he seems to be learning even more than before.
Little Wise Wolf is a wonderful picture book that is likely to be enjoyed by adults and children alike. It would work well in classrooms and would be great for starting conversations. It would also make a good lap read or bedtime story for parents with young children. This is a solid purchase for both public and school libraries.
Alex Matheson is a children’s librarian in Vancouver, British Columbia.