Every so often I read a book that makes me suck wind, as my former colleague in the bookstore used to say.
Suck wind~v. 1. to draw breath through one’s mouth. 2. To elicit a gasp. 3. To be surprised, as in the sudden appearance of Jesus Christ at Buffet World (extremely unlikely, and entirely inappropriate in this context.) 4. To experience a euphoric reaction to a beautiful thing.
Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Little Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall is such a book. As I turned the pages of BWLW for the first time, I was struck by the exquisite charm and quirkiness of the illustrations by Olivier Tallec. And the writing…well, I wasn’t expecting it to be so poetic, and the ending so lovely. It is a vent sucer à deux, a double wind-sucker. When I finished it, I wanted to share it with someone, anyone, immediately, after I caught my breath of course. My cat, however, was uninterested.
Sometimes I feel like a preacher, fired up by the Good Word (or the Good Illustration), my arms raised in a beatificating pose, testifying to the masses, and one mightily bored feline. Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Little Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall is a great book. A perfect book. And your souls will be damned if you don’t pick it up.
The story begins in spring, on a magnificent hill under two chunky, but softly painted trees; a bucolic scene spread over two pages.
In fact, all the pages follow this format, and all are magnificient. Big Wolf-tall, slim and amply snouted, is catching butterflies with a net, and Little Wolf, squat and blue, is fixated on a leaf, ‘sweet and tender green’, which is protruding ever so delicately from the tree’s canopy.
“I just have to taste it.”
Big Wolf replies, “Wait. Eventually it will fall.”
By summer, the little leaf has turned shiny and deep green. Little Wolf says, “Go get me the leaf. I just have to look at myself in it.” Badminton racket in hand, Big Wolf advises patience. Autumn arrives and the colours have turned soft, including the leaf which Little Wolf longs to rest against his cheek. Again, Little Wolf asks Big Wolf to fetch the leaf. “I just have to touch it.”
“Wait,” said Big Wolf. “You’ll see. Soon it will fall.”
While it appears as if Little Wolf is rather demanding, he is at heart, a sensualist, yearning to experience the perfection he perceives to exist in this leaf. Ever out of reach, Little Wolf’s attention wanes. By winter, he no longer asks about the leaf which even now, still clings to the branches of the tree, a last wisp of colour in the barren landscape. It is at this point that Big Wolf decides to pluck the leaf for his friend. “I’m going up!” he declares. In his (really awesome) yellow fur boots, Big Wolf begins his ascent, and Little Wolf says nothing. As the branches crack under Big Wolf”s weight, Little Wolf begins to ask himself if the little leaf is worth the trouble. Climbing ever higher, Big Wolf almost falls, and now Little Wolf is sure the leaf is not worth it, but still he says nothing. Finally Big Wolf reaches the leaf, which he is just able to touch by stretching his body across a branch. The leaf is ‘sweet and tender’ and Big Wolf is determined to pluck it from the branch for his friend, but the fragile leaf falls to pieces in his hands.
“In the setting sun, red and gold flakes descended slowly towards Little Wolf, who waited below. Little Wolf looked up into this rain of gentle stars. Little Wolf caught a teeny tiny one on his tongue, and he tasted its sweetness. As another passed before his eyes, he saw how bright it was. When a piece slid all the way down his cheek, he felt how gentle it was, and he trembled for a long time.”
Little Wolf says nothing.
Big Wolf slowly descends the tree. The night has fallen and the crescent moon hangs in the blackened sky. Little Wolf waits until Big Wolf’s feet are firmly planted on the ground, and then he says:
“That was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.”
And that’s when I sucked wind. How lovely. How deeply, and wonderfully moving.
The quietly evocative, and beautifully paced words by Nadine Brun-Cosme are accompanied by the most gorgeous artwork by Olivier Tallec. What a team they make, although the words and the illustrations, if they had not been in service to the other, would stand magnificently on their own. It happens all the time. You find a book that has great illustrations, but a ho-hum story. Or vice-versa. Not here. Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Little Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall is a perfect collaboration between two great artists. The multi-media (mostly oil, I think) landscapes by Olivier Tallec are truly breathtaking, but it’s his wolf, or wolves, that really steal the show. Big Wolf in particular, more of a scribble, or stick-wolf, than a fully rendered drawing, is so funny and charming in his yellow boots and puff-ball toque, he is instantly endearing.
Little Wolf, clearly the dreamer of the two, exists in many of the pictures as a tiny blue streak of paint (in woolies) against the colourful expanse of the seasonal backgrounds. Love the trees, and especially how Tallec picks out just a few details here and there, including the little leaf that wouldn’t fall, almost invisible and yet so compelling. Out of the ordinary, just like this book.
There was a predecessor to The Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall called Big Wolf & Little Wolf, as well as a third (and last) book in the series to be published in April called BWLW: Such a Beautiful Orange! I dipped into the Enchanted Lion Books website and discovered that they published another 32 Pages favourite, The Chicken Thief. A stroll through their other titles and it’s clear this is a publisher is seriously committed to exquisite illustrated picture books.
Olivier Tallec was born in Brittany, France in 1970. He graduated from the Ecole Ecole Supérieure d’Art graphique in Paris worked in advertising as a graphic designer before fully devoting himself to illustration. Monsieur Tallec has illustrated over 50 books for children. He also has a fabulous website, but once again, it has not been translated, so my opinion is based entirely on the pretty pictures, not the pretty words (high school French is good for translating cereal boxes, not websites.)
Nadine Brun-Cosme has published more than 20 novels and picture books for children. She lives in France. Thank you Ms Brun-Cosme, for making me suck wind. You’ve written a beautiful book.
Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Little Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall is written by Nadine Brun-Cosme and illustrated by Olivier Tallec. Published by Enchanted Lion Books, 2009
Big Wolf & Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme, illustrated by Olivier Tallec. Enchanted Lion Books, 2009
Big Wolf & Little Wolf: Such a Beautiful Orange! To be published in 2011 (Can’t wait. Hello Enchanted Lion??)
Please note, some of the illustrations faded in the translation from book to scanner. Get the book. I insist.
Also, thanks to Kate Bush for inspiring the title of this post.