Written and Illustrated by Mini Grey
Published by Penguin Random House UK ISBN: 978-0-857-55092-7
Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster
When I was a young boy, many decades ago I would collect my necessary items (stones, catapult, bubble gum and a bottle of pop) and go out first thing to explore the woods behind our house. The first page of this story took me right back to those carefree times when one did indeed hope to find wild animals.
Mini Grey has taken on Little Red Riding Hood, absorbed the story and repurposed the plot so it is more relevant for our present troubling times. She understands the reason for fables. All the characters are well defined and we care about them. Wolf, Lynx and Bear are fully realized, charming creatures. The story has an ecological and conservation message that needs to be understood and acted upon.
The direct and graphic cover shows Little Red framed by a triangle and attired for adventure standing in the wood. Above her is the elegiac title, The Last Wolf. The end papers with their spikey green trees signal a fairytale within, and this is so. We read a story within a story and flashbacks that are portents of the future. The serif text is crisp, informative and works mainly as captions.
The sense of place and depth is evident in the paintings. The stand out spreads for me are when Little Red wanders deeper into the forest, when she enters the wolf’s tree cave, the flashback to the heyday of the forest and when the forest is surrounded by the houses. The visual storytelling doesn’t shy away from the realities of a polluted world and nature in crisis.
The split panel spreads work well, with funny reveals at the start moving onto the flashbacks to the good old days in the middle and finally showing our impact on the natural world. Like her earlier work the illustrations have a spikey energy. Grey draws animals and trees exquisitely. She has great control over her line work and her autumnal colour palette. Yellows glow and blues show a cold encroaching civilisation.
It is quite possible that The Last Wolf has all the hallmarks to become a classic text. A previous winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2007, Grey shows us the world as it is and how it might be. Our imaginations should be the only limitation for children and adults alike, because we do need to identify solutions to these complex problems. I believe that for young children this book is a great place to start.