The Wolves in the Walls
by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Dave McKean
New York: HarperCollins
Gaiman presents a quirky, slightly creepy tale of how one family dismisses noises in the wall but comes to regret their shortsightedness.
Much like Coraline (the Gaiman story made into an animated film), the premise of this family involves an absentminded father and an overscheduled mother, neither of whom listen to their observant daughter. (Wolves adds a smart-alecky brother to the mix.) Lucy notices strange noises in the walls of their house, but her parents wave it off as mice or rats, and Lucy's brother is captivated by the idea of vampire bats. Lucy confides her suspicion of wolves to her pig-puppet, but no one else listens... until THE WOLVES COME OUT OF THE WALLS! The family runs out of the house and down the hill... strangely unpursued by the fearsome wolves. They take up temporary residence in the garden while the wolves take over their house (wearing the family's clothes, eating jam on toast, and watching television), and think of places they could live now that their house is otherwise occupied. Lucy sneaks back in to retrieve her pig-puppet, though, and convinces her family that THEY could live in the walls, now that the wolves are out.
The mixed media of the illustrations is eye-catching and sometimes a bit overwhelming: squiggledy pencil lines cross cut-paper figures, which fight for space with photographic elements and various paint effects. The text, too, takes part in the mish-mash, straggling down the page and curling around the cavorting wolves. Different sizes of font lead to a natural storytelling quality, and if you can read the smaller text easily, this is a great read-aloud book. Often, the page is quartered, with each family member speaking in parallel syntax. The repetition -- first the mother, then the father, then the brother, then Lucy (or sometimes a surprise character) -- sounds like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and students will become familiar with it after the second occurrence.
Although younger children would probably be frightened by the dark and active illustrations (even though the wolves don't eat anyone, they're pretty ferocious), grades 4 through 7 or so will see the humor behind the scary story and cheer for Lucy's success.
No Illustrator Info
Media: pencil, oil paint, cut paper, collage, photography