Wolf Story

wolf storyMy husband chose Wolf Story, written in 1947 by William McCleery, for our son’s fifth birthday. I’d never heard of it, but the New York Review Collection is always pretty reliable: they’ve put out the Jenny and the Cat Club books, and John Masefield’s Box of Delights, and Terrible, Horrible Edie, and dozens more: that’s good enough for me.

And as it turned out, this book was a complete hoot. A father is telling a bedtime story to his exacting son. As reception theory will tell you, the story is created by the relationship between the author and the audience, and young Michael has as much to do with the bedtime story as his father does, inserting demands about the fierceness of the wolf (“with teeth as sharp as butcher knives”) and the hen (“with feathers all colors of the rainbow”) over the father’s protests. The story is woven here and there, at bedtime and in the car and at the beach and with Michael’s best friend, and when it finally comes to its satisfying close, the only thing left is to tell it again, and see how it turns out this time.

The wolf story itself is pretty good (my own kids howled with laughter at it.) But the best part of the book is the relationship between the father and the son — and the mother makes a few appearances, too. It leaps with life. It could have been my own household. Here’s a taste:

The next evening the boy went upstairs and got ready for bed all by himself. He took off his clothes and left them on the floor, accidentally kicking one shoe under the bed where it would be hard to find the next morning. He also accidentally dropped his underpants in the wastebasket. Then he put on his blue flannel pyjamas, the ones with long flannel feet, and went to the head of the stairs. He called to his father who had promised to put him to bed again.

“Did you brush your teeth?” he said.

“When?” said the boy.

“Tonight.”

“Not tonight, no,” said the boy. “Shall I?”

“Why not? said the man.

It is this satisfyingly nonchalant tone that permeates the book and makes it a thoroughgoing winner. Highly recommended and very successful with a five- and a seven-year-old, along with their parents.

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12 Responses to Wolf Story

  1. vanbraman says:

    Looks like a nice book. I am sure that many will enjoy it.

  2. Joanne says:

    That piece of dialogue rings very true. Except I’m not quite as calm about it as the father!

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, I know. It goes on from there, too, just lovely. I read it myself in one sitting before reading it to my kids, and just laughed and laughed.

  3. Jeanne says:

    We loved this book at my house. We used to have an audiobook of it, and we would put it on for the kids to listen to as they fell asleep, after we had read to them already, of course.

  4. Sounds like lots of fun. I’m going to get it for my grandson who will be turning five soon. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Jenny says:

      It was kind of a gamble — neither of us had read it — but it turned out wonderfully and I am absolutely sure your family will enjoy it!

  5. Jenny says:

    Proper Jenny, I feel ridiculous right now but I didn’t know you had kids! (Lucky for you or I would have constantly been like, Have you read them this? Have you read them this? Have you read them this? :p) This book sounds totally charming.

    • Jenny says:

      Ha ha! Yes, my daughter Miranda is seven and my son Matthew just turned five (obviously.) We read them chapter books every night, so I would love suggestions! Also, Miranda is a voracious reader. The challenge for her is giving her books that are good for her reading level but also for her age — she could read Harry Potter now, but they are really too dark and scary for a seven-year-old (or at least this seven-year-old.) So if you have ideas, bring them on! And yes, charming is just the word for Wolf Story.

  6. Juxtabook says:

    Love the use of reception theory!

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