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Wolf Story

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Overview

This irresistible book is about: a father; his five-year-old son, Michael (intelligent, crafty, addicted to stories); Michael’s best friend Stefan (stalwart listener, equally addicted to stories); and, well—what else?—a story. 

Oh, and a wolf. It is as Michael always demands: a Wolf Story, which begins one night at bedtime and spins wildly on through subsequent bedtimes and Sunday outings to the beach and park in a succession of ever more trickily tantalizing episodes. ...

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Wolf Story

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Overview

This irresistible book is about: a father; his five-year-old son, Michael (intelligent, crafty, addicted to stories); Michael’s best friend Stefan (stalwart listener, equally addicted to stories); and, well—what else?—a story. 

Oh, and a wolf. It is as Michael always demands: a Wolf Story, which begins one night at bedtime and spins wildly on through subsequent bedtimes and Sunday outings to the beach and park in a succession of ever more trickily tantalizing episodes. Waldo the wolf is sneaking up on Rainbow the hen, when Jimmy Tractorwheel, the son of the local farmer, comes along. After that, there’s no knowing what will happen next, as while stalled in traffic jams or nodding off at night, the boys chime in and the story races on and Waldo finds, if not necessarily dinner, his just desserts.

First published in 1947 and wonderfully illustrated by Warren Chappell, William McCleery’s Wolf Story is a delicious treat for fathers and sons and daughters and mothers alike.

A young father tells his five-year-old son humorous variations on the theme of a hen escaping the clutches of a wily wolf.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"For the parent faced with a child consumed with the desire to hear the same story for the zillionth time, especially if it's a story with a wolf in it, joy has come with the reprinting of William McCleery's 1947 classic Wolf Story....I've loved this book for a long time, and it's good enough for a grown-up to read in silent pleasure, but it really springs to life when it's read out loud....Laughing and crying over made-up characters we know are made up, getting a kick out of it, and coming back for more is just one of those weird things humans do. And you can't start them too young." —Alexandra Mullen, B&N Review

“If you can get only one children's book this year, make it William McCleery's 1947 Wolf Story. This "underground classic" finds an inventive and exasperated father telling a wolf story to end all wolf stories (so he hopes) to his inventive and demanding young son. Dramatist McCleery perfectly captures the irritation, affection, tricks, admiration, and sheer surprise that pass back and forth between parent and child in everyday family life. It is in similar improvisational exchanges that we-adults and children-learn how to love.” —Commonweal
 
“’You can kill the wolf at the very end, but this way we can have more story,’ said Michael. The laughing child who listen will agree, for Wolf Story simply has to last forever. It is easy to imagine, from the natural conversational cadences and the impromptu unfolding of episodes, that the writing was no feat. But here is a little wok of art, funny, tender and captivating. To Warren Chappell, whose cleverly scratchy pen draws Rainbow and Waldo, Wolf Story also owes its attractive format.” —The New York Times
 
“There is an air of distinction to this book. It is a pleasure to have and to read. One parent told me that if she were to compile a list of ‘books for sitters’ (and wouldn’t that be helpful?), this book would lead all the rest.” —Christian Science Monitor
 
“This charming book, perfect for reading aloud at bedtime, was first published in 1947. It's about Michael, an engaging 5-year-old, and his father, and the story Michael orders his father to tell about a hen the boy names Rainbow and Waldo, a rather foolish wolf.” —The New York Times
 
Wolf Story had been out of print for a decade. I had loved it in the 1960s and so had the 6- and 7-year-olds to whom I read it over the course of a month. I still enjoy it. The story-within-a-story technique, peppered with dialogue, is used to good effect. Adults reading this aloud will recognize themselves. Children will, of course, identify with Michael's determination to mold the story to his taste. In the end though, Wolf Story is a celebration of a happy father-son relationship.” —St. Petersburg Times
 
Wolf Story is tough-minded, without sentiment and very clever. It may well have been this cleverness that split the reviewers down the middle when the book was first issued in 1947. However, in the laboratory test our 9-year-old loved it.” —The New York Times
 
Wolf Story will captivate both parent and child as a father regales his 5-year-old son at bed time with tales of a fierce wolf, the hen he wanted to eat, and the farmer who wanted to shoot the wolf. Interruptions—by enthusiastic son Michael add to the fun. So do Warren Chappell’s raffish pictures.” —Chicago Tribune

Riverbank Review
A charming romp wherein a sometimes flustered father must deliver fresh installments of a bedtime story about a wolf's quest for a multicolored hen named Rainbow.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-6-In this read-aloud version of William McCleery's Wolf Story (Shoe String, 1988), a small boy and a patient father take what began as a perfunctory bedtime story and massage it into a tale of greater proportions. After begging his father for a nighttime tale, Michael supplies his own elements leading to the story of Rainbow, a resourceful, courageous hen. She meets Waldo, a wolf who fits the pattern set by his predecessors of being persistent and threatening but not too bright. Later, the tale is continued at the beach and during car trips. Father, son, and a young friend mold the story to their own liking based on their moods and growing perceptions of what really should happen to these characters. Originally published in 1947, McCleery's story contains rich dialogue. Anthony Heald's expressive reading suggests the appropriate moods, from the father's playfulness at changing those timeworn stereotypes for the fun of it to Michael's intense insistence as he decides who will or will not be eaten. Heald's reading also underscores the father-child relationship as the two engage in shaping this oral masterpiece together. An example is Michael's father's patient, parentlike admonition as to why Michael should say "darn" rather than "damn" even though adults occasionally use it. This story will appeal to listeners who enjoy playing with story elements themselves. Teachers and librarians will find it an attractive selection for those listeners who enjoy a more subtle tale about characters having fun with a story.--Nancy L. Chu, Western Illinois University, Macomb
The Barnes & Noble Review

Children's stories are filled with Wicked Wolves and Big Bad Wolves, all with rapacious appetites, preferably for little girls but for any child in a pinch, perhaps with a pinch of salt. But has any wolf ever had so rapacious an appetite as a child has for a story? Especially a story with wolves in it. There's Red Riding Hood's wolf, of course, and Peter and his wolf. There are wolves at Willoughby Chase. There are the Three Little Pigs with their wolf. There used to be a little boy who cried wolf. There's even the Wolf of Gubbio, once big and bad but made un-wicked by the animals' best friend, St. Francis. There are both dangers and payoffs for children who identify with wolves — think what awaits Sendak's Max in his wolf suit or what Margaret Shannon's Roselupin does with her knitting in The Red Wolf. And as we get older there is also the lonely grief, as Mowgli finds, in not being a wolf after all.

On long car trips I used to entertain my youngest sister — and myself — by starring her in various Red Riding Hood–inspired adventures where she would pit her intelligence, with invariable success, against my most outrageously accented Monsieur le Loup. Unbeknownst to my younger self, I was participating in the noble tradition of parodic Big Bad Wolf literature. Catherine Storr's Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf has become such a family favorite that our wolf-eared copy has disappeared. Not long ago we giggled over the wolf in Little Bo Peep's Library Book by Cressida Cowell (she of How to Train Your Dragon fame) — his cookbook, "Basic Little Girl Cookery," includes such recipes as Mary Mary à la Mer, Muffet and Blackbird Pie, Petite Fille avec Curl, and, for unlucky days, Vegetarian Hotpot. Perhaps Colin McNaughton's Mr. Wolf, perennially unsuccessful in his predations on Preston Pig, already has a copy. Eugene Trivias has given us the redemptive Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig.

These books are all wonderful wallows in wolfiness, but for the parent faced with a child consumed with the desire to hear the same story for the zillionth time, especially if it's a story with a wolf in it, joy has come with the reprinting of William McCleery's 1947 classic Wolf Story. Five- year-old Michael is adamant that he wants his father to tell him another story about Waldo the wolf, even though Waldo has been in every story since Christmas. And no matter how plaintively Michael's father, a true Everyparent, cries out, "Haven't we had enough stories about terribly fierce wolves?" we find ourselves with another Wolf Story.

McCleery's wonderful riff on telling yet another story about wolves captures the affectionate tussling of off-the-cuff storytelling. Michael's father is the godlike parent-creator whose words have the power to bring a whole shaggy world into being. He can try to turn the story into a boring and quiet direction to put Michael to sleep, and sometimes it even works. But Michael, at five years old, has tasted the heady delights of being the unsleepy power behind that godlike throne. More powerful than the words that create are the words that boss the creator into creating in the first place. For Michael has learned "You can make anything happen in a story." Thus he imperiously nudges his father, "Make it that there is a hole in the fence," or "Make it that [Waldo] gets up and runs away" ("this way we can have more story!"), and above all "Make it long."

"I don't want to make it too scary," said Michael's father.

"Yes!" cried the boys. "Make it too scary! Horribly, horribly scary."

Oh, the power — and exhaustion — of the storytelling parent.
I've loved this book for a long time, and it's good enough for a grown-up to read in silent pleasure, but it really springs to life when it's read out loud. I retested it this summer on my four-and-a half-year-old daughter, who loves being told stories over and over and over again, especially in the car, just like Michael. She found Wolf Story "hilaaaaarious." She cackled at her favorite bits: when Michael, getting ready for his bedtime serial about Waldo, the fiercest wolf in the world, kicks his shoe under the bed and puts his underpants in the wastebasket; when Michael's father, continuing the saga of Waldo, "the fiercest and most boring wolf in the whole world," has a spot of difficulty with his box kite at Jones Beach; when Rainbow the hen is dubious about Waldo's politesse: "I hope you weren't planning to eat me in your fingers." And if you get her started on Jimmy Tractorwheel, the boy who comes to Rainbow's rescue with a baseball bat, she'll roll off the bed in gleeful hysterics and never get to sleep.

The author of this sport, William McCleery, was a playwright who had a son named Michael. So it's not surprising that the dialogue still spools out recognizably and that he's canny in hitting the theatrical highs and lows of the five-year-old sense of humor. But there's plain old unostentatious good writing too. Sometimes the descriptive power comes from the character of Michael's father as he tells the story about Waldo, Rainbow, and Jimmy Tractorwheel: "The next night was as dark as the inside of a black velvet pocketbook." At other times wry observation, good timing, and the opportunity for some superb sound effects come from the narrator guy telling us that story about Michael and his father:
As each thin old wave slid down the sandy slope away from the beach it ran smack into a fat new wave coming toward the beach. The fat new wave would trip over the thin old wave, trip and stumble and tumble and flop right on its face with an angry RRROARRR. Ssswishhh . . . RROARRR! Ssswishhh . . . RRROARR!

Right beside the two boys, Michael's father was making a similar noise, going Aahhhh . . . poooooooo! . . . aahhh . . . poooooo! . . . . It would have put the boys to sleep if it had not been naptime.
Without making a big deal of it, Wolf Story might remind us of both the naturalness and the oddity of storytelling. Michael wants Waldo not to be caught so there'll be more story for Waldo to be caught at the end of. My four-and-a half-year-old knows perfectly well that Rainbow the hen is just made up — for goodness' sake, the story showed her Michael and his father making Rainbow up! But she can simultaneously feel pleased that the completely fictional Rainbow is in danger — because of course nothing bad can really happen to a fictional character — and at the same time scream for Rainbow to make her escape just in case something does. Laughing and crying over made-up characters we know are made up, getting a kick out of it, and coming back for more is just one of those weird things humans do. And you can't start them too young.

Alexandra Mullen left a life as an academic in Victorian literature to return to her roots as a general reader. She now writes for The Hudson Review (where she is also an Advisory Editor), The New Criterion, and The Wall Street Journal.

Reviewer: Alexandra Mullen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590175897
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 9/11/2012
  • Pages: 88
  • Sales rank: 295,469
  • Age range: 5 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Meet the Author

William McCleery (1911–2000) was born in Nebraska and spent his early career as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor. In the 1940s two of his plays were produced on Broadway, and he later wrote some dozen one-hour dramas for television. From the 1960s until his death he was affiliated with Princeton University, where he taught playwriting, founded the magazine University: A Princeton Quarterly, and edited several volumes of university history. McCleery was a trustee of the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire from 1948 to 1970, and it was there that he wrote Wolf Story for his son Michael.
 
Warren Chappell (1904–1991) was a graphic artist, book illustrator, and typographer. He illustrated many books for children and adults, including three in collaboration with John Updike; created two highly regarded typefaces, Lydian and Trajanus; and wrote several books on typography, among them A Short History of the Printed World.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    I bought this as a gift for my 6 year old, NYC-dwelling nephew,

    I bought this as a gift for my 6 year old, NYC-dwelling nephew, with orders that my brother read it to him, just as in the book the father makes up the story for his son. In addition to enjoying the adventures of Rainbow and Waldo, they also loved reading about the father and son traveling to places around NYC that they too had visited. I read the book too, and loved it. The hen vs wolf story was wonderful, and the flavor of the father-son relationship comes shining through.

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  • Posted November 27, 2012

    How wonderful to see this book back in print! I have a copy of

    How wonderful to see this book back in print! I have a copy of the 1961 reprint that read to my children 20 years ago. Can't wait to give copies to my young neighbors (boys) for Christmas!!!

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  • Posted October 12, 2012

    Fun story, kids will love it.

    This is a charming story. Dad is responsive to the boys. Setting is delightful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2004

    An absolute favorite

    I read this book to my son last year when he was 6 --- we've read it again twice since. He loves it... Fun to read-aloud and a wonderful story. A great early chapter book.

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