Random House Australia, 2014
hbk., RRP $A29.95
“Look, Mr Wuffles, a new toy!” But with that look of disdain that cats have, Mr Wuffles stalks past the new toy and all his old toys – his mind is focused on playing with a tiny spaceship he has spotted! Turning it this way and that determined to find out what’s inside, he doesn’t realise that it is inhabited by teeny-tiny aliens and he is causing them a great deal of distress and damaging their precious machine, not to mention scaring the daylights out of them as his eyes peer in the slit. The aliens eventually escape and, taking parts with them, seek refuge under the radiator where Mr Wuffles can’t reach to try to regain their equilibrium and repair their craft. But there are other inhabitants behind the walls of the house – a menagerie of bugs who, thankfully, are friendly and who, having had their own ‘adventures’ with the cat which are cleverly depicted as ‘cave paintings’, understand the aliens’ plight and help repair the spaceship in ingenious ways. Sneaking hurriedly back to the craft, narrowly avoiding those nasty claws, the aliens escape, leaving Wiesner to create the most delightful ending imaginable. You don’t need words to know what Mr Wuffles is thinking. He is a cat with attitude which is why the title is followed by an exclamation mark.
This is another remarkable masterpiece by triple Caldecott Medal winner (awarded for the most distinguished children’s picture book), David Wiesner who it was widely tipped to be this year’s winner too. (The actual winner must be magnificent!)
Creator of such wonderful stories as “Tuesday”, “The Three Pigs” and “Flotsam” (his three Caldecott winners), the story behind the creation of Mr Wuffles is a story in itself beginning 20 years ago when he created a cover for Cricket magazine. In that, he depicted the landing of aliens in a sandbox, and he “liked the idea of the relationship between the child who found these little guys in his sandbox, and how they could get along even though they spoke different languages.” The concept stayed with him and had various incarnations over the years but nothing worked to his satisfaction until one day while waiting for his daughter at music class…
While it is almost wordless if you are looking for words in English, there is a great deal of conversation between the aliens and then between the aliens and the bugs, all meticulously crafted on a formula based on fractions and devised in collaboration with a linguist. “The words Wiesner’s little green men speak resemble what might be inadvertently produced by someone typing rows of numbers with the shift key left on”. The bugs have their own language too – testament to the attention to detail that has gone into this book. Wiesner even followed his own cat (ironically named Cricket which is where the story started) around his home with a camera on a long pole so he could get a cat’s eye-view of things.
There is nothing that I can say about this book that hasn’t been said already by reviewers of much greater standing than I, and an Internet search will bring up many, as well as YouTube clips, activities and a host of other references including the story behind the story here or here or just watch it here
This book is one for preschool to secondary – it is so full of riches. Beyond the story itself, there is the story of unusual friendships; the debate about being on the cat’s side or the aliens’ side; the opportunity to develop secret language codes; the examination of perspective to create and influence meaning… it is a treasury of visual literacy opportunities.
Not being a “cat person” I thought this review copy would be one I would pass on to a more welcoming home, but no. It will become an essential tool in my teaching kit.