A mouse meets a wolf in the forest one morning and is gobbled up. He fears for his life—until he hears another creature inside the wolf. The mouse is surprised to discover it’s a duck, sleeping comfortably in his bed. The two dine together, the duck telling the mouse how much he loves living worry-free inside the wolf. When he was outside the creature, after all, he lived in constant fear of being swallowed up.
Out in the forest, when a hunter threatens to kill the wolf, the duck and the mouse decide to defend the duck’s home, bursting forth from the wolf’s mouth and scaring off the hunter. The grateful wolf promises the two, now free from the wolf’s belly, whatever they’d like. In the next spread, readers see them back inside the wolf, their home, having a ball.
It’s the ultimate in joining ’em if you can’t beat ’em, this decision by the duck to define his own terms for freedom and comfort by reshaping the power dynamics with his enemy, the wolf. “I may have been swallowed,” the duck says, “but I have no intention of being eaten.” He’s vanquishing the enemy by being consumed by him.
It’s a story packed with funny details—from the knives and candles of the duck’s wolf-belly home to the makeshift warrior gear the duck and mouse wear when charging the hunter. The dramatic dialogue is entertaining (there are several utterances of “Oh woe!”). And the amorphous dark shadows of the forest are beguiling in Jon Klassen’s hands.
Mac Barnett and Klassen do it again, bringing readers a story they’ll wolf down.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.