It's the type of picture book that has magic to it. You don't realize it at first: it's an old picture book from the 1960s. The text is from 1918. It looks like one of those outdated books that might be of interest to a book collector, but how could it possibly pull in the media-drenched youngsters of today? At least that was what I thought, until I decided to try out this story for a read aloud. That's when I found the magic.
This old cautionary tale that's just a bit like Red Riding Hood, sans grandmother and woodsman, has a universal theme that any child will recognize. Little Girl lives near the jungle with her mother, and her mother warns her never to go near the jungle or the Gunniwolf might get her! Of course, one day, her mother goes out and Little Girl forgets the warning . . . The story has a happy ending when Little Girl manages to run home after a good scare, having learned her lesson. What makes this story sing is Wilhelmina Harper's delightful turn of phrase. Simple, easy to understand but musical with all the power of a storyteller behind them. Particularly notable are Ms. Harper's onomatopoeic phrases describing the Gunniwolf chasing Little Girl.(Hunker-cha, hunker-cha). The dialog of the characters is unusual, the Gunniwolf sounding strange with his demand that Little Girl "sing that guten sweeten song again!" and little girl's basic response of "I no move." when the Gunniwolf asks her why she moves. A child older than preschool age may find this tale a bit too young for them, but for a youngster it's one of those stories that fits just right.
While the text can be used without pictures in its own right, the pictures with this particular version of the book: William Wiesner's green and red colored drawings with incted in cross hatching for shading, are also part of the magic. They don't overwhelm the text or complicate it. Each picture complements the story in it's simplicity, but gives readers a clear image of the Gunniwolf and Little Girl. Wiesner does a marvelous job depicting the Gunniwolf as a crafty old trickster of a creature, without making him overly scary for youngsters. There's a newer version of this tale out with a different illustrator and the same text, but I confess to preferring this version and find the pictures mesh perfectly as they are.
The result? Spellbound audiences of youngsters. I keep getting requests for the story, and parents who want to find the tale to retell to their own children. It's a tough book to find since this publication is out of print, but you can find a newer version with different illustrations on the market! If you like this story, consider checking out Where the Wild thing Are by Maurice Sendak and Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina for more magical picture books!