The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett
Ill. by Jon Klassen. Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406377798
(Age 4-10) Highly recommended. This is a modern day humourous pour quoi or origin fable that explains why wolves howl at the moon. A mouse gets swallowed by a wolf and in the belly of the beast meets a duck. "I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten", the duck declares over a fine breakfast of bread and jam. So, does duck want to get back to the outside? Of course not: down here is no need to worry about being gobbled up! The two new friends feast, dance and feast some more but all this ruckus is giving the wolf a stomach ache, making him the perfect target for a hunter. "We must fight. We must try. Tonight we ride to defend our home", declares the mouse. So scare away the hunter they do, and are in exchange for their help the wolf grants them a favour (gobbling them up again, of course!), thereby resigning himself to a lifetime of howling at the moon in pain ("Oh woe! Oh woe!).
While definitely a quirky tale, this never seems to stray to the ridiculous. The friendship formed between the duck and the mouse is endearing and the way they save the wolf and live (somewhat) harmoniously with it in the end is pleasing and chortle-worthy.
Jon Klassen's illustrations are fantastic, especially when mouse and duck are dining at a long dining table dressed in their Sunday best, white top hats over their eyes and red wine spilling from their raised glasses. Their charge (brandishing hockey sticks and kitchen utensils) to scare away the hunter is also spectacular. Washed out browns and greys lend the book a sombre feel but despite its macabre subject matter it is really rather upbeat and the inside of the wolf is warm and homey (walnut brown tones). Both the illustrations and the language have an olden day, fairy tale feel (the hunter's tobacco pipe, record player, "flagon" of wine, duck wears a nightcap to bed, "Oh woe, oh shame", "I fear this is the end").
This really is a timeless tale that despite its uniqueness seems somehow familiar. It will appeal to old, young and probably everyone in between.