This bold eye-catching picture book is intriguing but puzzling. It sets out to explore important themes through a clever fable but seems to get muddled in its message and ultimately left me irritated by its failure to live up to expectations. My first irritant was the premise: Wolf does not like being Wolf, he does not like how he looks, it makes him feel bad, and when he feels badly he acts badly. This thought process is unchallenged with no other ways of looking at the issue explored. Wolf wonders if he can change his appearance and thus the way he thinks and acts so he asks other creatures their opinions beginning with Leopard and Chameleon, who I found to be judgmental and negative, especially as initial characters in vulnerable Wolf’s quest. They state that just as leopards are born spotty, Wolf was born bad, and this is unchanging and that Wolf is ignorant for not understanding camouflage.
When Wolf meets Caterpillar and Salamander he proves to be open-minded as he realises he has missed so much happening around him, like life cycles, because of being so self-absorbed and he settles into Salamander’s self-help group with ease. He is interested in and listens to the other animals, who all wear name badges, as they give quick introductions. This is a pleasing section which I am sure will pique reader’s interests into these animals. Each creature has a specific role to play: Flounder represents somebody with an unusual appearance (having two eyes on one side of the head is embarrassing), Reed Frog was born a girl but suddenly changed into a boy, which was confusing but now cool. Seal’s cute fluffy white fur has transformed into serious thick grey blubber that they are proud of. However, Mimic Octopus is another irritant. In reality they can impersonate a wide variety of animals but this character states they “can take the shape of five different sea creatures” before changing into a rock, crab, snake, and jellyfish. Is the fifth creature themselves? Is a rock a sea creature?
Wolf declares that he is not proud of himself reiterating the initial troubling premise: “I don’t like what I see in the mirror. It’s hard to be nice when you just want to smash things up.” With the group’s encouragement Wolf considers what he would like to see in the mirror and remembers something he did once that felt good so decides to do it again. For the book’s big finish, Wolf returns to the group wearing a big toothy grin and a body covered in white fluffy wool – he is now a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yes, this is a good use of the saying, a visual pun, and does fit with the idea of the book if you just think of Wolf changing his physical appearance into something that is soft, gentle, pleasing: sort of like Seal but in reverse. However, the actual meaning of the idiom, biblical in origin, and an Aesop’s fable, in my opinion, sharply contrasts with what I thought the book was trying to say. In this costume, Wolf is a dangerous enemy pretending to be a harmless friend and so therefore, a more sinister character than he has been previously. This ending supports Leopard’s starting point that you cannot change, you can just attempt to hide who you truly are from yourself and others.
This is a visually appealing book full of contrastingly lurid colours forming vibrant colour-blocking, flat bold graphics, and simple abstract geometric forms, but, overall, it is a puzzling book that is probably best to be taken at face value, not looked at too deeply. It is a shame that what could have been a valuable, critical book about such important issues that are so prevalent in society today in the end feels like a missed opportunity and a book that itself is as confused as its lead character is.
Natalie McChrytsal Plimmer