My 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.
“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.