Friday, February 17, 2012

The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, illustrated by Bernadette Watts

This is one of my favorite of the Brothers Grimm folktales. It's not quite as well-known as the other wolf stories, but something about this one has always grabbed me.

An old mother goat leaves her seven kids at home while she goes out to look for food. Of course, she warns them not to let strangers in, especially the wolf! and reminds them they can recognize him by his gruff voice and black paws.

Of course, the wolf shows up as soon as she's gone, and the kids helpfully tell him they know he's not their mother - he has a gruff voice! So he goes off to village, buys a piece of chalk, and eats it to make his voice soft and gentle.

I always wondered what eating chalk would do to your voice...

He knocks again, but this time the kids get a look at his feet and know he's not their mother - he's got black paws. So off to the baker, who hands over dough to put on his paws and then to the miller for flour. The miller is the only one of the village storekeepers who realizes there's something a little odd about the wolf's requests, but the wolf threatens to eat him so he hands over the flour.

Which makes me wonder - are there a lot of wolves wandering around this village, eating chalk and wrapping their paws in dough?

Back at the house, the kids let in the wolf (did their mother not take a key with her?). They try to hide, each in a different spot, but the wolf finds and eats them all, except the youngest who has hidden in the grandfather clock. He goes off to sleep off his meal and the old mother goat returns home. Horrified, she calls her kids one by one...and when she gets to the youngest, he answers (Why not before? Did he think the wolf had somehow divined his siblings' names after he had eaten them?)

They go for a walk. Nature heals, you know. Luckily, they come upon the wolf and see something moving in his stomach. Old mother goat cuts open his stomach (he SLEEPS through this??) and out pop the goats. They replace the goats with stones. When the wolf wakes up, he's thirsty and goes to get a drink...and falls in and drowns. The goats celebrate and live happily ever after.

There isn't really a moral to this (Always make sure your mother takes her key? Get a bigger peephole in your door? Don't fall asleep after eating 6 baby goats?) But the folklore rhythm of the story and the repetition is irresistible to children - and I still love this story myself.

The best edition I've found is Bernadette Watts. Her pictures are delightful and I love that she's made all the protagonists animals, so the doubtful miller is a cat (which makes the wolf's threat much more believable) while the storekeeper who sells the wolf the chalk is a rather dim-looking sheep.

Verdict: A little long for a toddler storytime, but a perfect choice for longer storytimes. If you have abnormally sensitive kids and parents you might want to skip the wolf's death, but most kids will be pleased by the logic - you eat someone's kids, you drown. Makes sense to me.

ISBN: 1558584455; Published September 1995 by North-South (out of print); Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

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