She’s brave and sensible, adventurous and kind, and really good at problem solving. Your new favourite heroine, in other words.
Her story begins one morning when she decides she must catch a wolf. Donning hunting hat and boots, grabbing a well-stocked lunch box and flinging her popgun over her shoulder, she sets off ‘a-stalking’ into the forest.
‘That’s all right’, her mum thinks. ‘There hasn’t been a wolf around here for at least a hundred years’. She waves Red off with a ‘good luck’ and – that classic storybook line – a ‘don’t be late for tea’.
The forest is strewn with bin bags and the stumps of felled trees. Spooked by ‘whooling noises and grabby twigs’, Red starts running. It’s then that she trips and finds herself staring at a door in a tree trunk, a door that’s about to be opened by the Last Wolf in the land.
As it happens, the Last Wolf has holed up with the Last Bear and the Last Lynx. They invite Red in and, over a cup of tea, tell her about the good old days, ‘when there were endless miles of forest to run through and a thousand tasty grazing beasts to bite’.
There’s a sticky moment when Red notices their eyes – such big eyes, too – are all fixed hungrily upon her. Suffice to say her packed lunch comes in very handy.
Back home, her popgun long forgotten, Red realises what it is that she can do to help the animals: plant more trees.
Award-winning author-illustrator Mini Grey has taken Little Red Riding Hood and spun from it a sharp, thoroughly contemporary tale that delights in zingy vocabulary and has a potent ecological message to convey. As the badge on its jacket proclaims, this is ‘a tree-friendly adventure’.
At the same time, there’s a lightness of touch to The Last Wolf that’s missing from so many new picture books. It extends to the mother-daughter relationship – so tenderly realised – and the quirky details that make its illustrations such fun to look at: family portraits hanging on the wall chez Wolf, for instance, include ‘Wolf of Wolf Hall’ and, of course, ‘Virginia Wolf’.
There’s real melancholy here for the grownup reader, too. Spotting the lights of home and her mum, who’s missing her, Red turns to say goodbye to the last animals but it’s too late – ‘they had already gone’.
Those words convey an infinitely more permanent absence to the adult ear. Then again, as rewilding initiatives gathering momentum, who knows…
The Last Wolf is published by Jonathan Cape at £11.99. Age range: 3+