Monday, March 28, 2011

Big Wolf and Little Wolf: The Little Leaf That Wouldn't Fall, by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Olivier Tallec (2009)

Big Wolf and Little Wolf, The Little Leaf That Wouldn't FallThis is the second in a series of (so far) three "Big Wolf and Little Wolf" stories by the French team of Nadine Brun-Cosme (author) and Olivier Tallec (illustrator).  The first book, Big Wolf and Little Wolf, was a Batchelder Honor Book in 2010, Batchelder being the ALA award for foreign language children's books that have been translated into English). And it's one of the most gentle, understated, and magical books on our shelf.

The story opens by taking us through four seasons of waiting, as Little Wolf watches the most beautiful leaf he's ever seen go from "sweet and tender green" to "shiny deep green" to "soft brown" and finally to "the beautiful black of cinders."  Realizing that the leaf will not fall on its own---and knowing how badly Little Wolf wants to hold it, Big Wolf decides one winter morning to make the treacherous climb needed to retrieve it, something he does "for no reason at all.  Just to see Little Wolf's eyes sparkle."  What happens when he gets there reminds us of the exquisite beauty of the ephemeral, the power of nature to touch our souls in ways we can't explain, and the joy both giver and recipient derive from random, crazy acts of devotion. 

One of the really interesting---and ultimately really wonderful---aspects of The Leaf That Wouldn't Fall is that the nature of the relationship between the two wolves is ambiguously rendered, such that it can accommodate a range of readings and resonate on different levels.  Most reviewers of the first Big Wolf, Little Wolf book, which describes the first meetings of the two main characters, describe the two as friends, eliciting comparisons to Lobel's Frog and Toad.  But reading the books out of order also invites us to see their bond (at least in the second book) as a parent-child relationship, as Miss E and I both did.  Either way, the warmth of Brun-Cosme's deceptively simple tale, perfectly paired with (and set off against) Tallec's spare, muted, often lonely winter paintings makes this a very memorable book.

Miss E's Read:

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