The Wolves in the Walls – Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean

I started reading Neil Gaiman with Good Omens, a book he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. I didn’t like Terry Pratchett (too punny, which I don’t find fun), but I found that Good Omens was more palatable because of the dark wryness that I can only assume is due to Gaiman. But enough of me strutting around about how I was a fan before the fans were legion (which is probably not even true, seeing as I was late to the Sandman party). Anyways.

Neil Gaiman exploded onto the “kids books” scene with Coraline, also illustrated by Dave McKean (black and white ink drawings). Well received, the creepy little tale even made it into theatres. Movies! The Big Time! Mainstream! What a step for “the most famous writer you’ve never heard of” (the Times of London quoted in the New Yorker).

Whatever. Gaiman’s too cool for school, and if his cool seems studied it also seems genuine. His all-in-black dark artsy style seems sincerely meant, rather than put on to score points. Points with whom? His fan base is strong enough that he could sell ditties scribbled on napkins bound together with dental floss. Am I digressing again?

I am an owner of much Gaiman, but my only sub-complete Gaiman set is of children’s picture books (although at the rate he writes, I am already caught in a semi-lie). The Wolves in the Walls, The Day I Traded My Dad for Two Goldfish and most recently, Crazy Hair (a birthday gift!). I requested The Wolves in the Walls for my (28th?) birthday in “books wish list” that I forwarded to my sister. She is overly generous and bought me all of the books on my list. Huzzah!

The Wolves in the Walls is a quirky, funny, story about [spoilers!] Lucy, who lives with her parents, her little brother and stuffed pig. Her mother cooks, her father plays the tuba, her brother is a brat, and there are (she warns them) wolves in the walls. No one listens. Until one day, the wolves come out of the walls and…it is all over. The family runs into the garden to live, with not much rescued (other than the best tuba…or is it the second-best tuba? It’s these details that make Gaiman’s work so delicious). But Lucy, who has left her pig behind, sneaks back to the house, sees the wreckage, and decides that it is time to take! back! the house! They do (oh no! Humans in the walls! It’s all over!)…or do they?

Not everyone has the ability to take quirk and spin it into urban mythology, faerie tales, and children’s books. This book really showcases Gaiman’s ability to take his quirk and condense it. A good picture book depends on the author’s ability to take a limited number of words and make them count for something. Maybe Sandman was good practice, because Gaiman has that in spades.

His partner-in-quirk, Dave McKean, is making art. Mixed media anyone? I’m not sure what techniques McKean uses (and I don’t want to just wiki and paste, because that is lame – originality, people!) but he is – at least – using pencil, pen and ink, paint, photography, and collage. McKean doesn’t always used all of these (The Day I Traded My Dad for Two Goldfish is, if I remember it right, pencil, pen and ink, and paints), but it is one of the things I really loved about this book. He is able to make certain things really pop out of the page using contrasting media. I like it. And it makes me happy that Gaiman and McKean are still working together. It makes me especially happy that, in his fly-leaf photograph, McKean is posing with what looks like a mask.

Favourite Quirk: The Queen of Melanesia in her brief walk-in role.

Reading Ages: People of all ages would like this book. But for a child, I guess anywhere from 3 (to be read to) to 6 (to read to oneself).

Rating: A. But I confess, rather grudgingly, that I may be a Gaiman fan (and I really dislike characterizing myself that way).


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