Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf is a picture book by acclaimed children’s author David Almond, with illustrations by equally acclaimed illustrator Dave McKean.
This is a strange little book, which really should come as no surprise. Almond is incapable of writing a story that doesn’t veer off into the strange or other worldly. The world in his books always contains a very thin veil between fantasy and reality, usually masked in some deep, religious reference that never strikes you as preachy or Bible bashing, but always as a kind of profound revelation of the mystery of the human condition.
If all this sounds a bit deep for what is essentially a thin picture book, you’re right, it is, but scratch the surface of what is a very enjoyable creation myth story, and you find exactly what I have just been talking about in spades. It is marvellous and wonderful in the best sense, and the joy of David Almond is that he makes it look effortless.
This is a story which it is possible to enjoy at many levels so don’t be put off by me banging on about the mythical/religious stuff. In essence it tells the story of a world made by gods, who initially delight at what they are doing, then get a bit bored and leave much of the world unfinished. They believe nobody else can create life like they can, but one day, three humans go out for a walk, and realise that they too have the power to extract living matter from their thoughts and souls and use it to populate the unfinished world they inhabit.
Intoxicated by what they can do they unleash more and more creatures until they are undone and the youngest and wisest of them has to intervene to put it right.
It is a powerful tale that has a delightful edge of creepiness to it and a nicely weighted ending promising more darkness to come.
The illustrations by Dave McKean, who also collaborates with Neil Gaiman on a lot of his children’s books, take the edgy oddness and push it further. The book is a delightful collaboration between two people who are totally meant to work together.
The story can be read and enjoyed to young children and older children, and the oldest children at different levels. It is suitable for both boys and girls, and were I in a position to be teaching lessons on creation myths I’d definitely use this one as a modern interpretation of the oldest stories.