Worth the Candle

The Red Wolf Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780618737444
Published: HMH Books for Young Readers - November 13th, 2006

Within the coming month, there will be so much fervor and buzz about a child in a wolf suit that some of us will be tempted to lock ourselves in our rooms - and skip supper.

But instead we could spread the word about a different tale of a child in a wolf suit. The creation of New Zealand author Margaret Shannon, The Red Wolf is a book we'd love to see capture even a fraction of the popularity of Where the Wild Things Are. Like Sendak's masterpiece, it's an original fairy tale with the punch of the primeval. And it's got a heroine, Roselupin, who's as wild as Max but far more of an agent in her own liberation.

Roselupin shares Rapunzel's plight. The king, her father, tells her, "The world is a wild and dangerous place, Roselupin. Far too wild for my precious princess." From the tall tower in which she's imprisoned, the girl looks longingly at a town and a vast forest. (The setting was modeled after a real place in the Czech Republic, an author's note informs.)

On Roselupin's seventh birthday, a mysterious golden box is delivered to the castle gate. Addressed to the young princess, it contains balls of yarn in many colors and the instruction, "Knit What You Want." The king is dismissive of such a humble present, but that very night Roselupin takes the red wool and knits an outfit complete with paws and tail. Her invocation says it all:

If the world's too wild for the likes of me, Then a BIG RED WOLF I'd rather be.

The wolf-suited princess grows quickly and soon the tower breaks about her, freeing her to roam the countryside. The townspeople feed her grand provisions (to sate her, lest she want to eat some humans). She dances wolfy dances and howls wolfy howls and dreams Matisse-flavored dreams under the stars. But the next day brings a snag - literally. The yarn of her suit unravels as she roams the woods, and villagers soon follow a trail of red string to a cave where a little princess has sheltered.

The king - a parent who is really slow to get a clue - interprets all this as his daughter's brilliant escape from a giant red wolf. But instead of rewarding her competence, he locks her up again, even tighter. Roselupin does what she (and what every child) must do: find her way to independence. This time she'll knit a little present for Dad.

It's pretty easy to oversell The Red Wolf by comparing it with Where the Wild Things Are - or with Rapunzel. Shannon's artwork isn't to everyone's taste, and Roselupin's solution to her problem can seem a bit drastic. But this is a stellar book for the child who needs permission to defy an overbearing situation, and the hope that it can be accomplished by her or his own hands. Knit What You Need, indeed.