Neil Gaiman made his name with his seminal graphic novel, Sandman. From there he became a successful novelist for adults with books like Neverwhere and Stardust. After that he tried his hand at children’s books and has become incredibly successful with both picture books and novels for older children.
The Wolves in the Walls is a picture book with illustrations by Dave McKean, a long time collaborator of Gaiman’s. The style and content makes this a picture book for slightly older children. I would recommend it for children aged six and up, although I did introduce my own children to this from the age of four. It does have reasonably sinister elements that you would have to be comfortable introducing into a child’s world. I would recommend it as suitable for both boys and girls. I would put a higher top age on the book than I would for most picture books, because of its originality in terms of the illustrations and the sophistication of the language, recommending it for children up to the age of twelve. My fifteen year old daughter still loves it, and so do I, actually, so I’d say it is pretty ageless, which is the sign of a book that is meant to endure over the years.
The book tells the story of a young girl called Lucy, and her family. One day, Lucy becomes aware that there are scufflings and scratchings coming from the wall. Things in the wall are watching her. She is convinced that there are wolves in the wall. She tells her family, but they are determined not to believe her. They all finish with the horrible warning. ‘You know what they say. When the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over.’
One night, the wolves do come out of the walls, and Lucy and her family are forced to flee. Lucy is left to save the day, as her family go to pieces around her.
This book is a firm favourite of mine. I love the complex illustrations which add a depth and maturity to the book that more traditional ‘child friendly’ illustrations would not do. I love the sinister nature of the text, and the fact that it is brilliantly undercut by a mischievous sense of humour that pulls it back from the brink of being truly frightening time and time again.
The language is rich and descriptive. The story is fresh, original and beautifully balanced between scary and comic. It is destined to become a classic of the children’s picture book genre.
I love the fact that it is Lucy, a girl who confides in a pig puppet, and who is the youngest of the family, who is the unlikely heroine of the piece. She is so quietly self assured, so absolutely herself, she lights up the whole book.