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Shannon, Margaret. The Red Wolf. Illustrated by Margaret Shannon. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. ISBN-13: 978-0-618-73744-4. $6.95. Ages 4-8.
Fearing the world is too dangerous for his precious daughter Roselupin, the king locks her in a tower. She passes her days gazing out her window at the forbidden world below. On Roselupin’s seventh birthday, a mysterious box addressed to her appears at the castle. Inside, the box is filled with wool and has a note that reads: “Knit What You Want.” What she wants, of course, is her freedom. That night, she knits a wolf suit reminiscent of Max’s in Where the Wild Things Are. This suit transforms Roselupin into a large and strong wolf, an identity that allows her to break free from the tower and head into the wilderness. The king is devastated by the loss of his daughter, whom he assumes has been eaten by the wolf seen fleeing the castle. Roselupin relishes her new circumstance. As a wolf, she eats all the food she wants, dances, howls, and explores the forest. The further she ventures into the woods, however, the smaller she becomes, and Roselupin eventually returns to her original form. The villagers find Roselupin in the forest and return her to her overjoyed father. To ensure that she is never harmed again, Roselupin’s well-meaning but misguided father builds an even larger tower to imprison her. But Roselupin is no longer willing to be without her freedom and devises a plan to gain it back. To that end, she knits a mouse suit for her father. The last page of the book features a mouse watching helplessly from the tower as Roselupin joins the other children playing down below.
The illustrations in this book are extraordinary. Shannon uses a combination of watercolor, pastel, and colored pencil in rich hues that creates a visually stunning book. Far more than complementing the narrative, these illustrations are vital to the telling of the story. As Roselupin wanders deeper in the forest, for example, there is no textual explanation for her transformation back into a little girl. Instead, a string of red wool trails through the trees.
The story concept is as beautiful as the illustrations. While this narrative reads like a fairy tale and features many of its motifs, Shannon also creates a sense of modernity. By introducing a self-sufficient and ingenious heroine, Shannon provides a role model befitting our era.