Little Wise Wolf by Gijs van der Hammen

Cover image of Little Wise Wolf

Little Wise Wolf by Gijs van der Hammen, illustrated by Hanneke Siemensma, translated by Laura Watkinson

Little Wolf loves reading lots of books. It’s how he knows so much about the world. All of his neighbors called him Little Wise Wolf and sought him out to answer their difficult questions. But Little Wolf didn’t want to interrupt his reading and kept his door closed. When the king’s crow comes to ask him to help the king, who is ill, Little Wolf refuses at first. After being convinced that he can’t refuse, Little Wolf sets off across the countryside. Along the way, it’s clear that the wolf needs help, but the other animals are busy doing their own things. When he finds himself wet, lost and missing a boot in the dark forest, Little Wolf discovers a camp already set up where he could eat and sleep warmly by a fire. It was all of the animals who had decided to help him after all. Little Wolf continued on his way to the king, asking for help as he needed it along the way. When he had saved the king and returned home, he made sure that he was never too busy to help a neighbor again.

This picture book celebrates knowledge and community. While learning from books is seen throughout the story as very valuable, it doesn’t really make its full impact until it is used to help someone else. Originally published in the Netherlands, this picture book has a delightful European feel. The text is straight forward but with space for interpretation and some dreaming too. The pace of the book is very similar, full of adventure but also time for meandering a bit.

The illustrations are marvelously gauzy, showing a black wolf with a white face and bright red boots on his journey. There are leafy patterns, rounded hills, puddling rain, and much more. The pages have a luminous quality as well as offering a haunting landscape.

A journey worth taking. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor

Cover image for Ikenga

Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor (9780593113523)

Nnamdi’s father was chief of police in Kalaria, constantly rooting out illegal activity. After his murder, the criminals got more and more bold. Nnamdi had to witness one of the worst criminals, the Chief of Chiefs, attend his father’s funeral. When his father appears to him in a vision, he gives Nnamdi an ikenga, a magical statue. The statue imbues Nnamdi with super powers, transforming him into a fighter for justice, huge like the Incredible Hulk with a deep voice and superhuman strength and speed. Now Nnamdi has the power to continue his father’s work and find who murdered him. But the powers are difficult to control, feeding off of Nnamdi’s growing rage at his father’s death and his family’s poverty and loss. He knows he can use them to do good, sometimes though the powers take control and he ends up hurting people. It’s up to Nnamdi to discover a way to use his powers and solve the murder without losing himself along the way.

Okorafor is the author of the Akata series for teens. This is her first middle grade novel. She does it so well that I hope that she does more. Set in modern Nigeria, the novel gives young readers a glimpse of a country rarely shown in American children’s books. Okorafor crafts a rich setting for readers, really integrating the setting deeply into the story itself. Her plotting and pacing are marvelous too, creating moments of wild rage and action alongside more mundane day-to-day life which is then turned upside down by the magic of the criminals.

Nnamdi is a complex hero. Interested in comics himself, it’s great to see him become his own hero through a thoroughly Nigerian process. While he compares closely to the Hulk when he is transformed, he is also his own being, struggling with control. One of the best parts of the book is that the villainous criminals have layers too, which will surprise readers as they are revealed.

Super heroes, Nigeria, magic and adventure make for a unique and splendid read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.