Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press, 2017)
I have to prepare for the worst when I read a picture book with Jon Klassen’s name attached to it. As an animal lover, I didn’t immediately embrace I Want My Hat Back due to the ending. (I’ve come around, loosened up a tad.) Klassen and Mac Barnett are gifted humorists who, along with Mo Willems, have shaken up the picture book industry. So I opened The Duck The Wolf & The Mouse [no comma in the title] with both anticipation and trepidation. Predictably—at least for a book by these two—the book begins with a jolt:
Early one morning, a mouse met a wolf,
and he was quickly gobbled up.
In the traditional picture book world, this would not happen. Wolf and mouse would go on an adventure or exchange curiosities but there would be no eating, except maybe a pizza or some fresh-baked bread. Of course, the wolf eats the mouse. What a tasty snack.
But then things get twisted. The hungry wolf swallowed the mouse whole. And, prior to that, he swallowed a duck whole. Now mouse and duck live in perpetual darkness in the wolf’s achy belly. As duck invites mouse to join him for breakfast, mouse asks:
“Where did you get jam? And a tablecloth?”
The duck munched a crust.
“You’d be surprised what you find inside a wolf.”
Of course! It’s a winking explanation for all the nonsensical picture books with animals eating at pre-set dining tables.
The poor wolf experiences all sorts of stomach pains due to his active residents. (Is the moral of the story for little boys and girls, Chew your food? My mother would approve.) I shall not reveal more but Barnett’s clever story and Klassen’s familiar dark illustrations—all browns and grays—are a delight.
This is a satisfying tale that will turn the most frowny face upside down.