Sometimes I review books because I’m struck by their beauty, their language, or their humor. Other times I review a book because it’s an important issue or an exploration of a topic that isn’t often seen in picture book form. This is one of those books. But it is also beautifully illustrated and written.
The cover struck me immediately. A wolf and a little girl sit on opposite sides of a table. Neither looks happy. A petal has fallen from the single sagging rose on the table. The light that illuminates them feels like a spotlight. And the title lets us know that the story is going to be in first person from the child’s point of view. Are you ready to turn the page, to see where this story goes?
He didn’t need to huff, or puff
or blow the house down…
The big bad wolf just walked in the door.
This wolf walks on two legs. He carries a rose. And he is welcomed inside.
He batted his eyelashes and purred like a pussycat
in front of my mother.
But he looked at me with cold eyes and sharp teeth.
The honeymoon was sour, like lemons.
The mother is fooled, but the child is not. Yes, this is a book about domestic violence. And how abuse starts, gradually gets worse, and affects the mother and child day and night.
The child makes herself “quiet as a lamb.” She tidies up, but “that wolf did not tidy up anything.
He even threw his plate on the floor because the pasta was cold…”
The child knows this is wrong, because if someone makes a mess at school, they must apologize, even if it’s an accident. But the child knows that it was not an accident.
Things grow more dire. The wolf howls at her mother, and he even leaves bruise marks from his fingers on the child’s arm. While the wolf and mother fight, the child hides from the violence under her covers, knowing that it won’t protect her “any more than a pile of straw.”
The wood of her bedroom door also doesn’t stop him from coming into her room.
And she builds “a fort made of bricks” around her heart.
When the mother gives her a suitcase and five minutes to pack, it’s clear they’re leaving the wolf behind. They end up in a safe house with other women and children and “no wolves.”
The ending is quite poignant, and realistic. The child hears her mother crying, but at least they will finally have a good sleep. “The big bad wolf can huff and puff all he wants, but this house will not fall down.” There is a certain strength in that bold statement, and an element of relief.
This author, illustrator, and publisher are brave to put such a book out in the world right now, a world of increasing censorship, where some believe we should protect children from these kinds of stories, that we should let children lead naive and happy lives. But we can protect all children from reality. And they are knowing and empathetic human beings. They see things in this world and experience things that may not be all sunshine and roses. It’s important to give them the tools to understand and talk about tough topics, and in doing so make them feel less scary, less forbidden to discuss.
This book is for the child who’s suffering from any kind of violence, who needs to feel seen and understood, AND it’s for the child who has never experienced domestic violence, who may benefit from understanding and developing empathy for others whose lives may not be so perfect. In other words, it’s for both ends of the spectrum and everyone in between.
Learn more about talking with your child about domestic violence from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Organize a fundraiser (like a bake sale) for a local program that works to end domestic violence. National organizations like Lifewire are also open to donations.
Learn how to talk to your kids about violence: information from the Child Development Institute.
Title: The Big Bad Wolf in My House
Author: Valérie Fontaine
Illustrator: Nathalie Dion
Translator: Shelley Tanaka
Publisher: Groundwood Books, English (2021), French (2020)
Ages: Pre-K through middle school
Theme: domestic violence
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.