Friday, May 23, 2008

Review: "The Wolves in the Walls," by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

I originally reviewed this book when it came out in 2003, a couple of years before I had a child of my own. In the last few weeks, my three-year-old and I have begun starting to explore a few books outside the realm of the standard Dr. Seuss-style children's books that we've been reading forever (not that there's anything wrong with those; we still enjoy them quite a bit). I quickly found out that he's not ready for books without pictures yet, when I tried "The Hobbit." (I know, I know, but I just can't wait to read it to him.) One of my next attempts was "The Wolves in the Walls." He absolutely loved it, and we've been reading it at least once or twice a night for the last week. I still find it a delightful book, and Dave McKean's occassionally creepy illustrations don't seem to scare him a bit. So, here's my original review from five years ago, and I find it still very much fitting:

When the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over.

No one's really sure why it's all over, or even what "it" is. But they all say it, so it has to be true, right?

The wolves do indeed come out in "The Wolves in the Walls" ($16.99, HarperCollins) the latest children's book from master fantasist Neil Gaiman.

When Lucy begins to hear scratchings and rustlings in the walls of her home, she knows the wolves have come. The problem is that no one in her family believes her. When she brings it up, they all think she has an overactive imagination, and they all tell her the same thing - "When the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over."

The book gets even more weird when the wolves do decide to come out. They take over the house, running Lucy and her family out. Lucy's parents and her brothers begin to consider all of the places they can move to get well away from the wolves, but Lucy doesn't want to live anywhere but her house. When she decides to go back in and confront the wolves, everyone gets a surprise.

I've been a fan of Gaiman since reading his "Sandman" comics in high school (and no, it's not about the guy from Spider-Man that can turn himself into sand.) He's one of the most inventive writers out there. "Good Omens," his collaboration with Terry Pratchett further reinforced that opinion, and his novels "Neverwhere," "Stardust" and "American Gods" are some of the best out there.

"The Wolves in the Walls" has the same kind of twisted humor you'll find in his other books, but the story remains light enough for young readers.

Artist Dave McKean worked on the "Sandman" books and also illustrated Gaiman's other children's books, "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish" and "Coraline." His illustrations are the perfect match for this story - creepy, but whimsical at the same time.

While it's a picture book, it might be a bit too intense for very young children. There's no violence or anything really questionable that parents should be concerned about, but some of the wolf drawings might bring a bad dream or two to the truly young. Think of it as a more intense version of "Where the Wild Things Are."

In the end, though, as creepy as the story is and as scary as the wolves may be, little Lucy finds a way to triumph by using her wits. Despite his affection for the darker stories, Gaiman manages to show children that their nightmares aren't as bad as they think, and all you have to do is stand up to them. And he does it in a way that can provide an interesting diversion even for his adult fans.

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