Review of the Day: Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman
Not every child views the imposition of a new sibling as an interloper, but a fair number of them do. They’re just tooling along, enjoying the natural bliss that comes with being the one and only star in their parents’ firmament when BLAMMO! A squalling person of inadequate size is there, hogging the attention. Unsurprisingly a low burn (or, in other cases, epic) rivalry erupts. Plenty of children’s books have addressed this issue, to varying degrees of success. It was then with great joy that I read one of the finest the other day. Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman may look, at first glance of the cover, like a lupine variation on that bunny suit worn by Ralphie in A Christmas Story but inside you will instead find a delightful tale of sibling rivalry as well as a cautionary tale of the dangers that come when shopping at a Brooklyn co-op. Issues every child should certainly be made aware of.
If you are a bunny and your parents find that a baby wolf has been left on their stoop, you would be well within your rights to have some qualms. But when Dot’s Mama and Papa first lay eyes on little Wolfie, all tucked tight into his little basket, it’s love at first sight. Not so Dot, who declares with refreshing candor, “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!” Her protestations, however, fall on deaf ears. Next thing she knows, Dot has a little, toothy brother. He likes eating carrots for breakfast. He sleeps very well through the night. And he absolutely loves and adores his new big sister to the point where she can’t use the potty or color without Wolfie drooling all over her. Time passes and soon Wolfie’s a great big furry guy eating the family out of house and home. When he and Dot are dispatched to the nearby Carrot Patch Co-Op to pick up some additional grub, she is certain that this will be the moment he makes his predatorial move. However, when the chips are down and Wolfie finds himself in peril, it’s up to his big sister to swoop in and save the day.
In her Author’s Note at the back, Dyckman mentions that much of the inspiration for this book came from her daughter who, as a toddler, would occasionally “transform” into what they called a “Wolf Baby”. Yet in her story it’s Dot who’s the star of the show. For all that the book is called “Wolfie the Bunny”, Dot has the reader’s sympathies from the get go. Then, after you’re Team Dot for a while, Dyckman cleverly gives us a glimpse into Wolfie’s p.o.v. When Dot and her friends run off after they’ve screamed a customary “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP” we see baby Wolfie crying for the first time. It’s from that point on that Wolfie attaches himself to Dot like a saliva-producing shadow. To give the book the right sound when reading it aloud, Dyckman also adds a little gentle repetition into the text. Combating Dot’s war cry of Wolfie’s dining predilections are her father’s proud exclamations whenever Wolfie does pretty much anything at all. If Mama says he’s sleeping then Papa will note, “He’s a good sleeper”. If Dot complains about him drooling Papa says, “He’s a good drooler.” And back go your sympathies to Dot. It’s a delicate balance but Dyckman pulls it off.
And yet, for all that, you still might have difficulty seeing Wolfie as anything but a bloodthirsty bunny eater, were it not for the elegant stylings of artist Zachariah OHora. Having already cut his teeth on making 500-pound gorillas adorable (but not cute) in “No Fits, Nilson”, OHora’s thick acrylics are perfect for “Wolfie” here. He’s toothy, no question, but his eyes sport this wide-eyed innocence that’s hard to resist. Truth be told, you fall for him as thoroughly as Mama and Papa when you see him. All this is set against a limited color palette. Aside from mustard yellow, green, red, and pink, there really aren’t a lot of other colors. The thick black paints are abundant, and the colors are seemingly subdued, yet pop when required to do so.
Now generally speaking I have a problem with picture books where animals subsume their natural instincts. Books like Miss Spider’s Tea Party where the whole point is not to judge someone, even if they’re a spider that should, by all rights, be eating her guests. So I should probably be upset that Wolfie has somehow gone off his natural wolf instincts. Instead, I’m charmed. This is nature vs. nurture at its finest. Sure he’s drooling on Dot, but anyone who has ever witnessed a kid in the throes of teething will understand what that’s like. On the one hand you could argue that it is cruel to dress a wolf in a bunny suit, no matter how kindly the bunnies or sweet the wolf. On the other hand, this is clearly Wolfie’s choice. You get the distinct impression that the bunny suit might even have been his idea. So what does that say about the choices our children make, even when they don’t gel with society’s expectations? No idea. I just like the image of a wolf in a bunny suit. It’s funny.
It is difficult to estimate how many authors and illustrators of children’s literature live in Brooklyn, NY. General wisdom states that the borough contains the highest concentration of folks of that ilk in the country. Certainly every season we see a new crop of books that reference and work in little Brooklyn-based details and elements. The kicker is that the place exerts such a pull that even artists who have moved away can’t help but reference it. Such is the case with Zachariah OHora. As he mentions in his Artist’s Note, though he now lives in Pennsylvania, the setting of his book is his old Park Slope neighborhood. The co-op, his old co-op. And then when you look a little closer you see other Brooklynesque details. Mama and Papa, for example, are so hip it hurts. I mean just check out their collection of vintage cameras (they must have a basement full of Polaroid film). You just know they both are adept on the ukulele, brew their own beer, and go to art house films with the kids every Saturday morning. But I digress.
Who hasn’t looked at their younger brother or sister and thought at one time or another that they bore more in common with animals than people? Wolfie the Bunny isn’t really going to change their minds on that front. Nope. Instead it’s going to just strike them as amazingly funny. With its catchy refrains, stellar pictures, and original storyline, this is one of the more charming picture books out there. A great book. Personal sibling issues not required.
On shelves February 17th.
Like This? Then Try:
- The New Small Person by Lauren Child
- Piggy Bunny by Rachel Vail
- Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Kahn
- Flora’s Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall
Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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