Written by Mac Barnett and Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Published by Candlewick Press (2017).
The Klasson Barnett duo needs no introduction, the pair have been prolific in the past years creating a multitude of fun quirky stories including Extra Yarn (2012), Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (2014) and more recently Triangle (2017). Their most recent collaboration The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse was released late last year, described as a modern mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood and Jonah and the Whale, it appears to be a story to guarantee some giggles.
On first opening the book, I encourage you to slip back the paper jacket and have a look at the cover, here you will see the embossed silhouette of the three characters; the wolf the duck and the mouse arranged vertically, giving a nod to the story’s potential fable like structure. Turning over to the endpapers, they are left blank but of the most perfect pale pink that ties in so nicely to the warm neutral palette of the entire book.
The ducks optimistic attitude is instantly revealed “I live well! I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten.” This is such a great reminder to be flexible in life and make the most of whatever situation you are in.
The story begins when a mouse encounters a wolf in the forest and is instantly gobbled up and finds itself in the cavernous depths of the wolf’s belly. Terrified and disheartened the mouse suddenly hears a voice and is shocked to have woken a duck from it's sleep. The two quickly make friends and pass the time enjoying food and drink together in the duck’s humorously cosy dwelling. I particularly like the subtle details here such as a decorative tablecloth with a candlestick and the small picture frame of a flower hanging on the wall. The duck's optimistic attitude is instantly revealed “I live well! I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten.” This is such a great reminder to be flexible in life and make the most of whatever situation you are in.
The two celebrate their new friendship with food, wine and dancing however all this commotion upsets the wolf’s stomach and he wails “Oh woe! Oh shame! Never have I felt such aching and pain.” Barnett has used an old style of language throughout the book similar to what you would see in fairytales and fables.
When the wolf’s moans attract a hunter the duck and the mouse must stand up to defend their home, what happens next is unexpected but makes for a charming end to the story.
His use of eyes is so strong in capturing emotion, thought and intention, often adding more to the story than the text suggests.
I love Klasson’s illustrations!! I am constantly inspired by how he portrays characters with such simplicity while at the same time portraying such personality and expression. His use of eyes, or in many cases just one eye (as the characters are often seen on a side view), is so strong in capturing emotion, thought and intention, often adding more to the story than the text suggests.
Klasson also composes his illustrations in an interesting way often cropping the scene dramatically, for example the double page spread after the mouse is gobbled up shows the forest with a few trees and the wolf walking off the page, half his body cropped. This is unusual for most picture books but I love how the story extends past the page and leads your imagination outside the book. A lot of details such as this can be discussed throughout the story such as, “where is the wolf going?”
A final detail is Klasson’s wonderful rendering. The textures add so much richness to the drawings, which would otherwise be quite minimal in style and mimic the textures you might find in nature creating the feeling of being in the forest. The colour palette is totally neutral but it is in no way boring, ranging from dark walnut brown, warm grey and beige, with hints of yellow, green, blue and pink.
Overall I quite enjoyed this book. The language is old fashioned which is a bit strange at first but it is nicely contrasted with the story’s quirky details, dry humour and the stylised illustrations that accompany it. I think it’s a fun read for children and adults. Let me know if you also enjoyed this book and if you have any other comments about the story and the pictures.