Wolfboy by Andy Harkness, Bloomsbury
What's it about?
Wolfboy is hungry and on the prowl for rabbits. He searches by the light of the full moon, growing hungrier and grumpier as the rabbits continue to evade him. In every scene, the reader can see at least one rabbit hiding in the background, but Wolfboy doesn't spot them. What will happen to the rabbits if he does find them? What will happen to Wolfboy if he doesn't catch one?
What makes this story stand out? It's very dramatic and almost like watching a play or a film. The suspense builds with the turn of each page to a terrific and theatrical ending which I won't spoil. The language is as evocative and atmospheric as the art. There's plenty of repetition and wonderful sound words all through the text.
I love reading lines like "Wolfboy sploshed across the murky creek" and "Wolfboy slogged through the soggy bog." It's brilliant watching him "tromp" and stomp about. The author skilfully increases the tension with effects like grass rustling and twigs snapping at crucial moments. The artwork is unlike anything I've seen in a children's book before.
About those illustrations...
I pre-ordered this book after seeing images shared by the author on social media. They are incredibly striking, interesting, dynamic and intricate. All of the illustrations were sculpted from clay and give the impression of a puppet show or stop-motion animation. The light-bulb lettering on the book's cover contributes to the cinematic qualities.
Here's a note on the art from the author-illustrator: "Each piece of art begins with a rough pencil sketch projected on to a piece of glass as a guide for sculpting. The illustration is shaped in clay by hand, then wooden tools are used to create the smallest details. The clay sculptures are photographed outside in natural light and then digitally painted with as little retouching as possible. I can say my fingerprints are literally all over this book! Although the worlds in this book live in my head, when I sculpt them in clay, they become real. I can touch them, light them, look at them from different angles. Each clay scuplture takes its own time to create. Whether I am sculpting the trees or clouds or characters, I feel like I am truly immersed in this little world. It's real to me. I just love it."
Why we love it...
It's a simple but clever and captivating story. Apart from the amazing artwork, I love how it's written, and it's so much fun to read aloud. The rabbits that appear in every scene make this book interactive as well as hilarious and my kids (3.5 and 5.5) enjoy pointing and shouting when they see them. Wolfboy is fierce but he's also very cute and comical looking, as are the rabbits. It's fantastic how Andy's fingerprints are visible throughout Wolfboy. This emphasises that the illustrations are handmade, shows children the imagination has no boundaries, and inspires them to create their own art.
Why you need it...
We've all experienced first-hand how hunger can induce Jeckyll and Hyde transformations. Wolfboy explores this in a playful way that will appeal to all readers, young and old. This book is ideal for reading aloud in a nursery or classroom setting. There's lots of potential for activities based on the story, such as making wolves and rabbits from clay or playdough. Exciting, original and as engaging as a live performance, Wolfboy is the perfect book for keeping your little own wolves entertained.
About the author and illustrator:
Andy Harkness is an award-winning art director who has worked on Moana, Frozen, and Wreck-it-Ralph, among other movies. After twenty-five years at Disney, he recently moved to Sony Pictures Animation. Andy's first book, Bug Zoo, was published in 2016 and also uses clay - here's a video showing how Andy created the artwork for Bug Zoo.