“Oh woe! Oh woe!” I know, I know, everything can sound downright adorable when voiced by a toddler – or by your own toddler, at any rate – but there’s something exceptionally so about the refrain of Mac Burnett and Jon Klassen’s new book, The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse. And it’s a cracker of a tale, too: rich in fairytale motifs, winningly shrewd, and bursting with pictorial wit.
It begins early one morning when a small mouse meets a wolf in the woods. He’s promptly gobbled up. Revelation comes when he lands in the belly of the beast and finds himself the guest of a savvy duck with a taste for fine dining. Soon the new roommates are having themselves a dance party and ordering up celebratory cheese and wine. (How? They yell to the wolf that swallowing the lot is an old remedy for the stomachache their jiving has caused him. In fact, why not ingest some beeswax candles, too, since things can get a little gloomy down there.)
More trouble materialises when the wolf is stalked by a hunter. Rescue comes from unlikely quarters, but there’s a price to pay, one that leaves him howling at the moon ever after. “Oh woe! Oh woe!”
There’s a lot to love about this fable. Linguistically charming (look out for words like ‘ruckus’ and woods full of ‘wraiths’), it’s richly illustrated with warm, painterly images. Parents will enjoy its retro touches like the vinyl discs our duo spins and their black-tie dress code for dinner, and influence-wise, the artwork also seems to hark back decades, to the great John Burningham.
Best of all is the canny optimism that it imparts. Resilience is a current buzzword in parenting books; in that respect, you couldn’t wish for a better role model than duck. As he says, “I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten”.
The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse is published by Walker Books at 12.99. Age 3-8.