Margaret K. McElderry Books, 4/1997
There’s almost no genre more lovable than the fractured fairy tale, but sometimes—the Shrek movies, for example, or even the beloved Stinky Cheese Man—can be wearying. Too many allusions to grown-up jokes, too much frenetic silliness—sometimes you just want a story with a basic inversion and some really excellent illustrations of that inversion.
You want The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig.
In Eugene Trivizas’s story, the three animals sent off by Mum to go seek their fortunes are fluffy-taled wolves who seem as gentle as the three little kittens. (Indeed, one is white, one is gray, and one is black.) They build a sturdy brick house, but the Big Bad Pig shows up and huffs and puffs. That doesn’t work, so he takes a sledgehammer to it. The wolves built two more houses—each more fortified than the last—and the Big Bad Pig takes them down as well. (Fair warning to the squeamish: He dynamites the third one, and the pictured explosion is tremendous.)
But then, the Three Little Wolves stop pursuing a strategy that clearly does not work.
They build a fourth house with flowers—a fragile, sway-with-the-wind affair made with sunflowers, marigolds, daffodils, water lilies, roses, cherry blossoms and even a bluebell for the doorbell. The Big Bad Pig could huff it over in a heartbeat, but when he inhales he doesn’t: So much beauty and such intoxicating scent make him reconsider his life of meanness. Maybe he’d rather be a Big Good Pig.
The conversion of bullies is seldom so quick in real life, but certainly the Three Little Wolves are onto something. (Just as the book’s creators seem to know a thing or two about gated communities.) There are examples of kindness and generosity everywhere in this book (random animals such as a rhinoceros and a flamingo provide the wolves with their building materials), and readers will be palpably relieved when a gentle view of human (well, species) interaction finally triumphs.
Perhaps best of all, there is Helen Oxenbury’s artwork. Her usual brilliance with facial expressions and postures is on full display—what a book this is for haunches!—but she’s also done construction scenes that will enthrall young builders. Fair warning to
readers-aloud: Be prepared to discuss brick-laying terminology, framing, and pulley dynamics.