The Girl and the Wolf by Katherena Vermette (text) and Julie Flett (illustrations)
(Theytus Books, $19.95)

Review by Irene N. Watts (BCBW 2019)

It is berry-picking time. A little girl wearing a bright red dress runs with joy in every step of her moccasin-clad feet.

Her mother's warning not to stray too far before dark floats over the girl's head like the butterfly just ahead of her.

When she stops running she no longer sees her mother and cannot remember the way back to her. The trees loom thick and black; she is scared and hungry.
Suddenly a tall grey wolf with flashing white teeth appears:
The wolf came up close and
sniffed her.
His wolf breath was hot and
stank of meat.

Will this wolf use his wiles to trick the child? As happened to Little Red Riding Hood?
No, this is not a story about a wolf from old European fairy tales. This is a compassionate, helpful wolf. He tells her:
Take a deep breath.
Close your eyes, then look.
What do you see?

And so the child, too young to hunt, discovers berries to eat and safe water to drink. She finds her way home by recognizing trees close to her camp. The wolf has given her strength, a power she did not know she possessed, the ability to rely on herself. Her happiness restored, the girl runs back to her mother, a happy reunion.

The wolf is no longer beside her. He has disappeared, his work done.

That evening, the girl wraps a special gift of tobacco, one of four sacred medicines -- as a thank you for the help she was given.

The illustrations by Julie Flett, a Cree-Metis artist based in Vancouver, are outstanding. Her textured images are perfectly in tune with the story, both supporting and enhancing the words.

One of the most striking illustrations is when the wolf first appears, white teeth gleaming, eyes glinting. Flett has created a brilliant image of the girl's apprehension, as she holds herself still. Yet moments later, the wolf appears as a caring companion watching over her; the artist's image now exudes gentleness and compassion.

The end papers -- a delicate shade of palest blue, with a motif of white butterflies in the upper and lower corners -- provide serenity and contrast to the darkness that falls rapidly as the tale unfolds. The girl with her flowing black hair and scarlet dress illuminates each page.

This is an intrinsically Canadian picture book that is sure to resonate with children, both in this country and beyond. The Girl and the Wolf is the work of Katherena Vermette, an innate storyteller who has chosen her words -- not too many and not too few -- perfectly. Dialogue is sparse yet totally apt, lending depth to the story.

Highly recommended for ages 4-8.


Playwright/writer, Irene N. Watts most recent work is Seeking Refuge, a graphic novel illustrated by Kathryn E. Shoemaker (Tradewind Books, 2016).