CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 30 . . . . April 10, 2015
This picturebook begins with the words “Once, there was a man who could not stay in one place for very long.” The book tells the story of a man with wanderlust who walks to “the north part of the world”. He becomes a hermit in “the land of ice and snow” and eventually turns into a wolf and is never heard of again. According to the blurb, “This story of self-acceptance teaches us an important lesson about our connection to the natural world, and the role silence plays in helping us hear our own inner wolves.”
The recent death of Ted Harrison, illustrator of the classic The Cremation of Sam McGee shapes the way that I see The Man with the Wolf in His Belly. The illustrations have visual similarities to Harrison’s work in his use of swirling repeated lines and bold, unexpected colours. Parts of the book also remind me of Matt James’ illustrations for Northwest Passage in their occasional use of extreme close-up and confusion of scale. These picturebooks all offer powerful images of the North.
Both the illustrations and the words of The Man with the Wolf in His Belly reflect their creators’ time in Yellowknife. Nick Macintosh’s acrylic landscape paintings are very beautiful. I particularly enjoy the aurora borealis, the snowscapes, and the fall colours. They are unusual for picturebook illustrations in that they’re static rather than narrative, but they work with the mostly slow-paced story. German Saravanja’s writing creates a contemplative mood, particularly in the sections in which the main character is wandering the wilderness by himself. I like his details about solitary life, such as “the crackle of snow” and “the deafening crunch of ice flows bumping and scraping”.
This picturebook has an unusual message that solitude is healing. On first reading, I expected that the book would end with the main character returning to his family. It actually ends with him happily choosing to leave the human race altogether! The message that one can be most alive when one is alone provides a nice alternative to most children’s literature which tends to privilege family and connection.
The Cremation of Sam McGee and Northwest Passage are based around songs or poems. The Man with the Wolf in His Belly is based on a shadow puppet show which toured around Canada. Regrettably, shadow plays don’t translate as neatly to picturebooks as do songs or poems. The book contains rather a lot of text (unfortunately laid out in block capitals), and the pacing of the story is uneven. However, I can see this book working well in a classroom setting, particularly in the context of a unit on the North. It evokes a feeling of space, freedom and alluring danger which may inspire young readers to find out more about the great north.
Lian Beveridge is an independent scholar based in Melbourne, Australia. Her primary research interests are children’s literature (especially picturebooks) and queer theory.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.