Jo Loring-Fisher. London: Frances Lincoln, hb, 978 0 71124 956 1, 2021, £12.99, 40pp.
Fiction, picture book, 5-7 years
Shy, nervous Sophy is happiest at home wearing her wolf suit and playing in her den. Through retreating into her fantasy play-space, Sophy feels like a wolf – strong, fierce and brave.
At school, however, she is bullied by other children. Something extraordinary happens when Sophy is transported to an enchanted woodland, where she meets dream wolves who inspire her inner courage.
Jo Loring-Fisher’s appealing illustrations are beautifully rendered to depict the sensitivity of this story. A colour pallet of predominantly pastel shades and understated tones invites the reader into a dreamy, imaginative world of magic realism. Texture conveys swirling leaves, snowstorms, and cosy wolf fur. The narrative concept of a spirit animal as the catalyst for character development is most interesting, yet the story treats this idea with a focus on humans, rather than exploring a more genuine interconnection between humans and animals.
Overall, the narrative is straightforward and while the text itself is clear, it seems that richer and more lyrical writing would better complement the images. Alternatively, since the illustrations are emotionally evocative and convey the narrative effectively, perhaps this tale would have worked well as a wordless picturebook. The forest setting and interactions with wolves and a bear hint at the power of nature to restore: Sophy’s escape – from a tower block in a nameless grey city to the snowy woods – enables her transformation, and it would have been interesting to see this idea developed within the narrative. Sophy’s wolf costume conjures images of Max from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, who dons his wolf suit and causes mischief.
While both stories address children’s emotions, Loring-Fisher’s rendering is occasionally twee. However, it could be an effective tale for children who experience anxiety, reminding them of the importance of kindness and courage to help overcome their struggles. This story is a worthy contribution to those books that show young audiences how a gentle nudge can make one feel braver.
Review by Kerenza Ghosh