In this tender story, author-illustrator Matthew Cordell doesn’t waste any time or space to spin the tale of two lost creatures and an act of kindness. Before we even get to the title page, we meet a girl and a wolf cub, as well as their families.
As the girl heads home at the end of the school day, the snow is falling hard. She’s well equipped in her big, red coat, but the windy weather weighs her down on her walk to her warm house where her parents wait. In a parallel story, we see a group of wolves head out, yet the youngest of the pack falls behind. On one spread, two large spot illustrations show the weary young girl and the lost and confused wolf cub, each slowed down by the snow.
Eventually, they meet, and both are frightened. But the girl immediately reaches out to help, hearing the wolf’s family howling in the distance. Bravely, she ventures toward them in order to return their cub, facing her fair share of dangers along the way. In another spread with two large circular spot illustrations, we see the girl, wolf cub in her arms and her eyes wide with fear, face off with a parent wolf. The girl releases the cub, and the parent takes the baby away. On her tired journey home, she collapses in the snow, and in a kindness returned, the wolves surround her, howling her location to the search party. Cordell wraps up the story by showing the girl safe and warm in her home.
The pacing here is spot-on, the tension building with each page turn. In these nearly wordless spreads (we are only privy to such things as howls, barks, huffs and whines), Cordell builds great sympathy for both creatures, and he conveys more about the girl’s courage with body language, tone and color than any lengthy text could. The illustration showing the happy reunited human family in the snow, as well as the howling wolf pack atop the hill above them, is heartwarming and emotionally rewarding.
This one’s a keeper.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.