Always on the lookout for simply written fables that do not insult my, and your, and three-year-olds’ intelligence, I was recently delighted and inspired and finally a little conflicted to discover a right-size meditation on beauty and friendship hiding out in one of those extra tall hardbacks which apparently do not fit into American shelves. Hardly anyone makes these here now, perhaps mirroring our smaller expectations for the form.
Big Wolf and Little Wolf, The Little Leaf That Wouldn’t Fall is admittedly a mouthful of a title, and the fault doesn’t lie in translation. Here is a book determined to mean exactly what it says. Writes the not-pithily named Nadine Brun-Cosmé in her dedication:
“For Papa and Mama,
Those showers of stars,
those fragments of leaves
that we still taste
I know. How French. How intriguing! And yet all of this feverish ambition informing a story about two wolves who wear mittens and booties? These illustrations by Olivier Tallec are even willfully modest: Big Wolf appears to be the creation of a single black crayon, the leaf of the title is hardly visible in most of the wide angle vistas, the brush strokes are grainy, and I don’t think I will be forgetting any of it very soon. As for Little Wolf, he’s blue, and a dreamer, imagining the sensory splendors – of taste, then touch, then the rest – contained in that single unreachable bud.
And then… he stops talking about it, just one of a number of fleeting, yet vital surprises that you probably wouldn’t even notice if you had not become metronomically accustomed to the linear relentlessness too often mistaken for momentum in these things.
Has Little Wolf forgotten about the leaf? Has he given up? There is a moment of breathtaking quiet at the middle of the story – the two roasting marshmallows in a snowstorm – when all of his wordy desires have finally crossed into unspokenness. Then one morning “for no reason at all,” Big Wolf wakes, stretches, and declares, “I’m going up!” though of course it’s not for no reason, but many, sometimes nameless, often irresistible, no matter the words and tricks and passion we bring to bear.