Ah, the joys of stereotypes. Wolves, by Emily Gravett (2005) was a book I came to because of reading Wolf Won’t Bite, which I’ve previously reviewed on this blog. Wolves is a Boston-Globe Horn honor book, an award given for excellence in children’s and YA literature.
This made me pretty excited for the book, which does some very cool things — it explores magical realism (a rabbit checks a book out from the library about wolves, and as rabbit reads and walks, the wolf from the book starts stalking the rabbit) and provides an alternate ending. The illustrations are clear and simple, and in this book, as with Wolf Won’t Bite, it’s clear that Gravett isn’t afraid of negative space on the page. Compared to some children’s books, in which details and color choke every illustration, this is refreshing and feels very clean.
Probably foremost is the portrayal (in the first ending) of wolves as inherently evil. In the first ending, it’s clear that the wolf stalks the rabbit, and eventually kills the rabbit. Wolves = bad, if children identify with the rabbit. Wolves = scary. Wolves = killers. This doesn’t allow the wolf room to act on its wolf instincts, or to be a natural predator. This, written in a country (UK) where wolves are traditional villains. This, read to children in societies that have already villianized wolves not only in stories but in real life too — where wolves are culled or hunted or shot on sight.
After the ending where the rabbit dies, Gravett says: “[I] would like to point out that no rabbits were eaten during the making of this book….here is an alternate ending” for sensitive readers.
Meaning, children who identify with the rabbit.
In the alternate ending, the rabbit and the wolf share a jam sandwich. Because, surprise!,the wolf is a vegetarian. And, because, naturally, that’s what both these creatures should eat.
So, there are those problems with the book.
And then there are things like:
- The wolf is portrayed in a hoodie. Because everyone in hoodies should be feared.
- The wolf is portrayed hunting alone, although previous information in the book describes wolves as pack hunters.
- The wolf hides in a copse of trees (as the canopy), which potentially promotes the idea of fearing nature — or at least the wood — because of the unknown it might contain.
- The rabbit probably deserved to get eaten. Not because the wolf is a predator. But, because the rabbit wasn’t payin attention while he walked and read. You know. Watch your environment.
Would I recommend this book to children in my life? Quite probably, despite these issues. But, I would want to have a conversation about stereotypes and also read a book which more positively portrays wolves.