posted by Beret Ages: 5-10+
Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner has done it again. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, he is known for crafting wild tales of new worlds–using few words, if any–with enough detail and complexity to appeal to readers of all ages. Mr. Wuffles is no exception.
Mr. Wuffles is bored. Mr. Wuffles is cranky. Substandard toys line the halls, untouched, as he searches half-heartedly for something worthy of his attention.
But what’s this nestled amongst the fake mice, feathers, and string?
What Mr. Wuffles encounters relieves his ennui at last: a tiny spacecraft. Not surprisingly, his interest causes critical damage to the ship. Soon mini-aliens are in cahoots with ladybugs and ants to make repairs and outwit the furry beast. Wiesner brings their miniature world to life, exploring the space in the walls and the minute ingenuity of the smallest of creatures.
Why this book is awesome:
As always, Wiesner’s illustrations are a delight. Though they may differ markedly in personality, Mr. Wuffles is physically based on Wiesner’s real-life feline pal, Cricket. He has perfectly captured the postures, movement, moods, and curiosity of this feisty protagonist.
As their worlds collide, the insects and aliens come to life in rich detail, as well. Chronicles of past clashes between feline and insects cover the walls like teeny cave paintings, and alien engineers draw up plans to evade Mr. Wuffle’s sharp claws.
Unlike his previous books, however, this one is loaded with dialogue. The thing is–with a couple of minor exceptions–it’s not English. In conjunction with a linguist, Wiesner has developed an alien language, full of geometric shapes, mathematical symbols, and, for compound words, numerators and denominators. He has created a rich and interesting story, but left it for the readers to develop and script.
Each time I tour the pages, I find new details and subtleties. Here is a snippet I particularly like:
Mr. Wuffles is a charming picture book for all ages, but far too complex to be fully appreciated by the very young.
Examining Wiesner’s alien language has made me think about secret codes. Those will have to wait for my next post, however. Stay tuned.
For more about the book in the author’s own words:
For those of you new to David Wiesner’s work, he is also the creator of Tuesday and Flotsam–perhaps my favorite picture books of all time. He has a way of looking at the world with wonder, and from unique perspectives. Pairing this with his artistic genius and sense of humor, he has devised a magical combination. Definitely check out both of these fabulous books.
Incidentally, the teacher from whom I borrowed the photo above has devised a lesson to accompany Tuesday. Basically, he asks students to examine the illustrations and use them to develop a set of notes for a police report on the incident presented. What witnesses and potential witnesses are found in the book? What evidence is there to substantiate claims? Looks like fun! Here’s the link.
To give you a sense of the author’s personality, let me share a snippet from an interview he gave following the publication of Mr. Wuffles. I found it on The Horn Book website.
“5. Do you think aliens have visited us?
DW [David Wiesner]: I like the idea that they’ve been visiting Earth. One thing is for sure, though: when they do reveal themselves, they’d better be in saucer-shaped ships. Whether the saucer is an efficient shape for space travel is irrelevant. They’ve been monitoring our media for years, and they know perfectly well what our expectations are. It will be an unbearable letdown if they show up in a tube or a cone or a sphere. We want saucers.”