Take a walk on the wild side
Howl by Kat Patrick and Evie Barrow
“It had been one of those days. First of all, the sun was the wrong shape, in a sky that was too blue…”
Howl by Kat Patrick and Evie Barrow has quickly become one of our favourite bedtime stories. We were delighted to receive a gift of this gorgeous picture book from Scribble Kids' Books last week. The 3.5-year-old and the 5.5-year-old have been requesting it every night since it arrived, and the story has resonated with all three of us.
A little girl called Maggie is having "one of those days" when nothing goes right, and a bad mood is impossible to shake (something to which most of us can relate!). After night falls and the moon rises, Maggie begins to have "wolfish thoughts." She sneaks out of bed and into the garden to "dance under the luxurious moon."
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Mum is going through a transformation of her own. She howls through the window before joining Maggie outside. Mum tells Maggie to imagine her "biggest feelings" are "flying into the sky" as she teaches her to howl loudly into the night.
Together they prowl, dance, huff, puff and enjoy the elements. They find a fresh appreciation for everything with their new beastly senses, and proudly howl in unison. It feels good to be a wolf. Later on, when she is tucked up in bed, Maggie realises it feels good to be herself too.
I LOVE how empowering this book is and how it challenges gender stereotypes. Although Maggie is in terrible humour, she is never told to snap out of it, smile or "be a good girl." Instead, she is encouraged to explore her feelings and channel them in a positive way.
Female anger is rarely recognised or represented in our culture and tends to be portrayed as undesirable and undignified when we do see it. This book acknowledges that female anger exists, is natural, and nothing to be ashamed of. Howl embraces rage and encourages healthy expressions of it.
Howl also reassures children that they can go through big changes - permanent or temporary - and still be themselves afterwards. This book shows children that their experiences and behaviours don't have to define them. Howl underlines how different actions can provide a release or an escape and how a return to ourselves can be just as satisfying.
Maggie is a wonderful character and one to whom children can easily relate. There is resemblance to Max of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. They both unleash the wildness within and run amok in their imaginations, but instead of being alone like Max, Maggie shares this experience with her family.
I really like how relationships are central to this story. The mother-daughter bond is crucial to Maggie and Mum's conversion. Their wolfish adventures are a collaboration, and their affection radiates from every page. All three generations of this family share a close connection as even Granny undergoes a change.
Maggie and Mum's wolfish alter-egos are portrayed as large shadows surrounding them, demonstrating how they can be both themselves and wolves at the same time. We see Granny on the doorstep holding on to a handrail for support, with her own, smaller, wolfish shadow behind her. Although not as mobile as the others, Granny still has an inner wolf.
The illustrations look like they have been hand-drawn with coloured pencils and are incredibly attractive and full of personality. They have a rugged quality and a primal energy that suits the tone of the text. Strong, dynamic lines make the characters and their environment even more animated and vivid.
Maggie is brilliantly brought to life; she looks adorable when grumpy and her mischievous and fiercely independent nature shines through every scene. I love how she appears to have escaped out the window of her bedroom using her bedspread!
Maggie's home looks so cosy, inviting, and real, and reminds me of my own childhood - especially the garlic bread and spaghetti for dinner. There are lots of interesting details like the kitschy salt and pepper shakers. The vinyl collection makes the house feel even more retro and there are no mobile phones or screens of any kind.
Outside is an explosion of natural beauty. Plants and flowers glow blossom below deep blue, starlit skies. One of our favourite spreads shows the colourful gardens of Maggie's neighbourhood. The endpapers are cleverly designed to look like Maggie's pyjamas and bedclothes. In the title pages we see Maggie pick up the stick that she later drags along a fence in the opening scene.
Author Kat Patrick is a journalist too and her skill with words is evident. The language is simple but eloquent, and as evocative as the images. This is Patrick's fourth book. Her other three, Doodle Cat Wears a Cape, Doodle Cat is Bored and I am Doodle Cat are also published by Scribble Kids' Books.
Evie Barrow is based in Melbourne and her art is influenced by the landscape of Australia's Mallee district. Passionate about picture books, she has illustrated lots of others that look fabulous too. Barrow's work has appeared in magazines and other publications and she blogs about past and present projects on her website.
Howl captured the imaginations of both of my children and is much more than "just" a book. Reading this has inspired my kids to explore their own inner wolves in our garden after dark. Howl is one of those special stories that will stay with my daughters for the rest of their lives, and I'll always remember it too.
I'm extremely grateful to the lovely people at Scribble Kids' Books who sent a gift of this beautiful book and button badges to my baby wolves and me. All opinions expressed are my own.
Author: Kat Patrick
Illustrator: Evie Barrow
Publisher: Scribble Kids' Book
Publication Date: 11th Feb. 2021 (Ireland & UK)