First off, let me say that I am not a dyed-in-the-wool Wiesner fan. Sometimes I don’t understand his storytelling, and sometimes I find his art a little too perfect, maybe even a little cold. So it will surprise some of my children’s book friends (who might or might not have heard me rant about Wiesner before) to discover that I admire this book.
All people on the Caldecott committee have likes and dislikes when it comes to art in picture books. Sometimes the opinions are very strong ones. But, each member has to read all the nominated books and keep an open mind, even when a nomination seems incomprehensible. So, when someone suggested the new Wiesner, I have to admit that I rolled my eyes and instantly planned on fobbing this off on Lolly or Martha. Until I saw it.
Not that I am a Crazy Cat Lady or anything, but Mr. Wuffles reminds me of a certain feline inhabitant of my planet. Mr. Wuffles. The paper cover makes me laugh everytime I see it. I mean, really, could this white-pawed, black cat look any more disdainful? (Perhaps he is still angry about his silly name?) When Mr. W’s human offers a new toy, he cannot reject it fast enough. The other scattered toys still have their price tags attached, a tribute to wasted money. But, wait–one of the toys is missing a tag. The little silver toy innocently waits for Mr. Wuffles, and when he finally discovers it, worlds collide.
Weisner’s ink-and-watercolor paintings tell the story of little green extraterrestrials in a silver toy-sized ship and their battles with one Mr. Wuffles. Speech bubbles–in English, alien, and insect–keep the panels and full-page spreads especially lively. At first, the ETs are ecstatic at their safe landing, only to be discovered by the cat, who takes every opportunity to bat at, carry, and love the silver craft. When the aliens try to escape during feline naptime, they are saved from sure death from a distracting butterfly and find refuge under a radiator. Here they find insects who live among the detritus that Mr. Wuffles has no-doubt batted here: old pencils, marbles, string, paperclips, and the like. But these insects are clever too: indeed, they have painted battle scene murals detailing their fights with the cat! And, when the aliens need allies, the insects help them find their way out.
The committee will undoubtedly appreciate the clever storytelling that deepens with each rereading. Wiesner leaves nothing to chance, and each early spread refers to something in the final battle. The references to the Lascaux cave paintings will deepen the appreciation. But, more than anything, I appreciated the cat’s-eye view of the world–from frantic bug chasing to angry tail-thumping to claws-extended windowsill glaring.
Mr. Wuffles might not win the battle, but he sure did win one more fan for David Wiesner. As if he needed another. For the record, Mr. W (the illustrator, that is) has won the Caldecott Medal three times (Flotsam, The Three Pigs and Tuesday) and been honored twice (Sector 7 and Free Fall). But THAT will NOT play into the discussion in January.