For the past four days I've been raking leaves in the rain, sleet and snow as the winds gust about northern Michigan. For the most part it's been sweep, gather and haul, sweep, gather and haul but yesterday as I was clearing a pile away I noticed several curled caterpillars under the layers, already taking up residence for the winter. In that moment I realized I had probably disturbed other realms smaller than mine, tiny civilizations I should be noticing.
David Wiesner. In Mr. Wuffles! (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcout) he dares to share his dreams, his imaginings with we fortunate readers. Mr. Wuffles' day is out of this world.
LOOK, MR. WUFFLES,
A NEW TOY!
OH, MR. WUFFLES!
Mr. Wuffles is a cat with an impressive attitude. His home is littered with new toys, none of which seem to interest him in the slightest. As he saunters among these treasures gathered by his human, attentive readers will notice one without a price tag. At first glance (yes, first glance) it appears to be some kind of tea leaf strainer.
Upon closer inspection, zooming in, we see it is a vehicle filled with five tiny inhabitants, green-skinned, large eyes in small egg-shaped heads, wearing long belted garments similar to dresses. Amid their celebrating, two huge eyes fill their large window. Mr. Wuffles has doubled back, noticing these beings.
In typical feline fashion he begins to bat it around, carrying it, trying to open it and then abandoning it for the moment. Inside, the passengers feel like storm-tossed, shipwrecked sailors; their equipment, necessary for operation, suffering damage. With no other option, they leave the safety of their craft seeking repairs.
The wily Mr. Wuffles spies them sneaking away, gets closer, and lifts a paw for the destructive swat. When zipping through the air is a rescuer for the frantic folk. Racing to the closest shelter, they scurry beneath a heating radiator, then through a hole in the wall. This is a David Wiesner book; this hole is no ordinary hole.
On the walls are drawings, like the prehistoric cave paintings discovered throughout the world, depicting battles with the cat, battles between ants, mice and ladybugs. As conversations begin, information and food is exchanged among the ants, ladybug and alien beings. Mr. Wuffles, nose pointed toward the radiator, is staring like the Spinx.
Inside, materials are assembled, repairs are made and a strategy is formed. Working together the teeny creatures attempt to thwart Mr. Wuffles' advances. Success will mean all can return to their respective homes. Success will mean Mr. Wuffles will be stationed in front of the radiator waiting, watching and wondering.
Only four phrases in English are used in this title, enclosed in speech bubbles; his human is speaking to Mr. Wuffles. Speech bubbles are likewise inventively shown when the aliens are communicating with the ants and ladybug. The difference is readers will have to decipher the symbols signifying words by the extraterrestrials. The bug babble is another mystery altogether.
Without their knowing David Wiesner is preparing readers for a journey into the land of possibilities with the design and layout of his jacket and cover. His front jacket highlights the steely stare of Mr. Wuffles among his toys with the colorful raised title letters above him. The tiny ladybug flying in the corner is a hint of things to come. On the back of the jacket the wallpaper changes patterns but continues with the same color palette. We are closer to the ladybug and its shadow as a partial shadow of Mr. Wuffles is shown in the upper corner. The real surprise to first time readers is the cover; a glossy spread of the cosmos. It's a study in contrasts; the black and white of Mr. Wuffles set among the many colors and the warm homey scene of the jacket compared to the shine of outer space on the cover.
Through a series of panels per page, double and single page spreads edge to edge, including the verso and title page, using watercolor and India ink, Wiesner tells this tale in definitive, wordless detail. Pacing and tension are superbly portrayed in the size and frequency of his visuals. The true to life gestures, movements and expressions on all the characters will make believers out of readers by the final page turn. To delineate between the rooms with Mr. Wuffles and inside the hole, the panels are framed differently; white space represents outside the hole, thin black lines convey the darker area behind the walls. One of my favorite illustrations is a close-up of Mr. Wuffles staring intently at the spaceship which is emitting alien language sounds.
Mr. Wuffles! written and illustrated by David Wiesner is a purr-fect piece of storytelling; a pictorial adventure, a close encounter of the best kind. Every reading will reveal new details and evoke fresh grins at the gentle humor. This nearly wordless masterpiece has been placed on our Mock Caldecott list.
To obtain more information about David Wiesner, his work and his books, follow the links embedded in his names above to two different websites. This link is to a five question interview at The Horn Book. For a short teacher's guide created by the publisher about this title and others follow this link. Enjoy the official book trailer and David Wiesner speaking about this book below.