Review Blog

Jan 10 2014

Mouse bird snake wolf by David Almond

cover image

Ill. by David McKean. Walker, 2013. ISBN 9781406322897.
(Age: 8+) Recommended. Picture book. Allegory. Creation. While the gods sleep on high, exhausted after creating the world with all of its variety, three children, Harry, Sue and Little Ben, wander the earth, in awe of what they see. But there are gaps.
After a while, they experiment to see if they can fill the blank spaces and so Little Ben imagines a mouse and creates it out of the resources around him, willing it to life. Each of the children is excited by this and Sue goes on to create a bird. The gods on high see the bird and wonder at it, but return to their slumbers.
Then Harry dreams up a snake. He moulds it out of the clay on the ground and wills it to life, offering the sorts of noises it will make. But it proves less alluring than the bird and the mouse, and the children are a little frightened of what has been created, and baulk, while the snake slithers into a hole in the ground. But then he creates a wolf.
An allegory for modern times, the story parallels the creation of all we see, and in particular, the things we would prefer to have been left out. Just like Pandora, the evil things brought into the world astonish and bruise the children, but here, they are able to revoke the wolf, although it still lurks beneath the earth. I love the feel of the story, that people have created good things but also some not so welcome. In the hands of an encouraging teacher or parent, the discussions about what is good in the world could be impressive. This could lead on to discussions about their responsibility in making the world a safer place.
The illustrative techniques used are as different as the story, inviting the readers to ponder why the illustrator has used this style and discuss how the style parallels the story, giving it a surreal edge.
Hints in both the story and illustrations, point to other stories, building up a multi-layered effect, where readers can bring in other stories they have heard. Moulding animals out of clay, the images of the older boy taking up more room on the page as he creates the snake and then the wolf, the gods on high resting in clouds, the image of the snake as evil, and so on, all parallel other creation stories from differing cultures which beg to be discussed.
Fran Knight

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