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Apr/May 2011 Reviews & Interviews

Big Wolf and Little Wolf

Review by Colleen Mondor


Buy now from Amazon! I have written in the past about Nadine Brun-Cosme's delightful picture book adventures with "Big Wolf and Little Wolf" but now, on the release of their final story, it seems fitting to address the three books as a whole. Together, they take readers from initial meeting through careful development of their friendship, the tenderness of a special gift, and ultimately to the realization of just how important they have become to each other. Along the way, both wolves, drawn in an exaggerated fun style (Little Wolf is a brilliant blue) by Olivier Tallec, have some grand adventures while coming to treasure each other. It's sweet but not cloying and manages to blend the importance of relationships with a few laughs and eye-rolling moments as well.

The first title, Big Wolf & Little Wolf, finds Big Wolf blissfully living a solitary existence under the perfect tree in a great meadow. Little Wolf arrives eager to be friends but is rebuffed. Slowly Big Wolf lets down his guard and begins to consider that his life with Little Wolf might be a good thing. Then Little Wolf decides to away and Big Wolf is bereft. He thinks of all the ways that Little Wolf has made his life better and then, in the final pages, when Little Wolf returns they both decide that it is better to be together than apart.

In the second book, Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Leaf That Wouldn't Fall, the seasons are changing and all the leaves are falling from the tree. Big Wolf and Little Wolf have fallen into an easy life together (as the story opens they are playing tennis in the meadow) and so when Little Wolf shows an interest in the last leaf on the tree, Big Wolf is determined to climb up and get it. What follows are some funny moments as Big Wolf creeps up the tree (wolves are not known for their climbing abilities) and then a near tragedy when the leaf crumbles in Big Wolf's hand. Tallec captures the stunned look on Little Wolf's face, eyes wide with shock, a knit cap on his head and red mittens on his hands, as "all the pieces blew farther and father away". But Brun-Cosme turns this instead into a gentle moment of discovery as the friends relish in just how precious the leaf truly was and thus the specialness of Big Wolf's attempt at recovering it for his friend.

Finally, in Big Wolf & Little Wolf: Such a Beautiful Orange, the prize is a fruit, "so round, so sweet and so bright" that both of them want to have it. Big Wolf reaches it but decides to share, tossing it to Little Wolf below. The orange goes too far however and disappears down the hill. Little Wolf goes after it and when he does not return, Big Wolf goes after him.

This is the first look at life beyond the tree, meadow and hill that readers are given and what they find is a huge city that completely surrounds the park. Big Wolf, who quickly finds the orange, is overwhelmed by the buildings and noise. He becomes lost and afraid until a desperate trip on a train brings him to the end of the line and there is Little Wolf! With orange still in hand the wolves are reunited near a new tree and meadow that this time is right next to a beach. They decide this is an even better place to live and in the final two page spread are running joyfully across the sand, intent on hitting the waves and in the last picture, fishing in the great blue water.

When Betsy Bird reviewed the first book for School Library Journal, she noted that it seemed to particularly appeal to children with a new sibling:

In a lot of ways this is one great big metaphor for getting a new sibling. There's someone new, they're smaller than you, and they seem to want to do everything you do. So you tolerate their presence for a time, but if they were actually to go away permanently you'd feel just terrible. You can't help but love how insecure Big Wolf is too. He's constantly afraid that Little Wolf is going to best him in some way. That he might be bigger, or a better climber, or be superior in any way, shape, or form. The fact that Little Wolf simply could not be more unthreatening never seems to occur to the larger fellow. He's so desperate to be superior, that when Little Wolf takes off, the emotional vacuum he leaves behind catches the big guy entirely out of the blue. One does have to wonder what Little Wolf is getting out of this relationship, but if the book's a sibling metaphor anyway then Little Wolf is just content to bask in the presence of his big hero.

I agree, although I also think the books work brilliantly as a slightly demented series of buddy novels. I say demented because the guys are really quite funny—they don't respond as you think they would or in necessarily the most logical matter, but the end result is always a hoot and they're so happy together that you can't resist them. They are sweet stories and with Tallec's sweeping illustrations carry an old world feel. (I agree with Betsy that Brun-Cosme's French sensibility carries through even though the translation from Claudia Bedrick is seamless.) Most importantly the characters are so appealing that readers will be delighted to follow them on their adventures. Consider them a more cosmopolitan Toot and Puddle, easily recognizable but a little more interesting then the average tale. One of the things I especially enjoyed was the notion of wolves as friends in peaceful stories without even the hint of violence. It seems like every other animal has enjoyed it's moment in the sun, we're way past that moment for wolves.

With a color palette that draws in all the senses, characters who induce laughter and tender smiles and an overall aesthetic that will appeal to the artier sensibility of adult and child, the Big Wolf and Little Wolf series is wholly original and unforgettable. They are books to hold on to and for certain thoughtful children will be treasures beyond childhood.

 

Big Wolf & Little Wolf
By Nadine Brun-Cosme
Illustrated by Olivier Tallec
Enchanted Lion Books 2009
ISBN 978-1-59270-084-4

Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Little Leaf That Wouldn't Fall
By Nadine Brun-Cosme
Illustrated by Olivier Tallec
Translated by Claudia Bedrick
Enchanted Lion Books 2009
ISBN 978-1-59270-088-2

Big Wolf & Little Wolf: Such a Beautiful Orange!
By Nadine Brun-Cosme
Illustrated by Olivier Tallec
Translated by Claudia Bedrick
Enchanted Lion Books 2011
ISBN 978-1-59270-106-3

 

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