cover image The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse

The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse

Mac Barnett, illus. by Jon Klassen. Candlewick, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7754-1

Barnett’s collaborations with Klassen often draw humor from knowledge withheld. Readers giggled because they knew Triangle was up to no good, and they saw the giant diamond that Sam and Dave missed while digging. In this big-hearted, gleeful caper, everyone shares the laughs. A sweet mouse with pink ears encounters a wolf in the forest. He escapes, right? Wrong. The wolf gobbles him up. Which is awful, right? Nope. It’s surprisingly comfortable inside the wolf. In fact, a duck is already in residence. “Where did you get jam?” the mouse asks over breakfast. “And a tablecloth?” It’s the wolf who suffers. “I feel like I’ll burst,” he moans, as the mouse and duck feast over a candlelit dinner. When a hunter closes in on the wolf, help comes from an unlikely place (and gives new meaning to the phrase “inner resources”). Klassen trades the spare look of his Hat books for a softer, more painterly style. Much of the action plays out against the warm, walnut brown wash of the wolf’s insides; Klassen lingers on the soft grays of fur and feathers. The domestic trappings of the wolf’s interior provide laughs (there’s a full kitchen and record player, the mouse gets hold of a hockey stick), as do touches of Gallic elegance (the mouse and duck dress for dinner, and there is wine). The story’s timeless, fable-like feel is bolstered by its traditional cast and old-fashioned fairy-tale language: “Oh, woe!” cries the wolf. “Oh shame!” Life can turn the tables pretty quickly, Barnett suggests, and only those whose outlooks are flexible will flourish. “I may have been swallowed,” says the duck, “but I have no intention of being eaten.” A rare treasure of a story, the kind that seems to have been around forever. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)