If I wasn’t already in love with this series of picture books by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Olivier Tallec, I would have picked up Big Wolf & Little Wolf, Such a Beautiful Orange, the third and final book in the trilogy, for the title. Or the promise of the title. What could be more tantalizing than a perfect piece of fruit? If not for the title, I would have added the book to my collection based solely on the cover. That wolf is killer, and I don’t mean this in a predatory sort of way. The long and amply-snouted Big Wolf is a wonderfully inspired creature, unlike anything else in contemporary picture book illustration. All of this is, of course, immaterial; there is no reason to single out one attribute from another. Big Wolf & Little Wolf, Such a Beautiful Orange is perfection from beginning to end, and I am so very glad to have been in the company of wolves, these wolves, over three extraordinary books.
But just how beautiful is this orange? Plenty beautiful, as you’ll see…
As we’ve come to expect of the leisurely pair, Big Wolf and Little Wolf are once again enjoying a moment of quiet repose under the canopy of a giant tree when Big Wolf notices an orange hanging from a branch. Little Wolf sees it too. The orange is so round and bright, and full of fruity goodness, it has them both ‘a bit upset’ because each wants to be the first to pluck the thing from its branch. Lean and tall as an exclamation mark, Big Wolf is first to reach the fruit, but alas, the soft-hearted lupus’s victory is short-lived. Seeing Little Wolf’s sad face parts, he tosses the orange to his (slightly manipulative) friend, but throws too hard and sends the orange sailing across the meadow. Wishing to ease Big Wolf’s distress, Little Wolf wanders off in search of the beautiful orange, but when doesn’t return, Big Wolf decides that he too will venture into the Unknown Place. Turns out, this wolf-strewn meadow is not part of a forest, as I had assumed, but a square of green in the middle of a city. A big city. Have the two wolves been living in this urban oasis all along, or is the hill with the huge tree just their latest stomping ground? Up to this point, the books have been a sort of one-room play. The thought that they may have been surrounded by tall buildings and congested city streets all along is rather mind boggling. No wonder a single leaf or a perfect orange holds so much joy.
“…no wolf had ever loved a little wolf as much.’
As Big Wolf wanders the streets of the city looking for his friend, he finds the orange lying on the ground.
Where is Little Wolf? Olivier Tallec’s illustrations of the city are in stark contrast to life on the hill, with claustrophobic blocks of gulag colour stacked into the amorphous shapes of urban architecture. The geometric landscape is so striking, it’s a challenge to find the wolf, a flick of paint in a white t-shirt, sidling down alleys and dodging vehicles. Big Wolf struggles with feelings of paranoia (has Little Wolf abandoned him) and loneliness as the dark night descends around him. Should he return home, eat the orange, and let destiny take its course?
“For a split second, Big Wolf thought again of his tree without Little Wolf under it, and he trembled from head to toe.” At his darkest moment (riding the subway, of course, where dark moments abound), Big Wolf howls ‘as no wolf has ever howled before, because no wolf had ever loved a little wolf as much.’ Declarations such as this either get you arrested, or…if you’re a particularly sensitive wolf, may just release you from a state of existential despair.
Clear-headed for perhaps the first time, Big Wolf is no longer afraid, and…he knows Little Wolf is near.
Morning breaks. At the train stop, Big Wolf sees a hill and a tree. The hill is not his hill, and the tree is different from his tree, but under it is a little wolf. His Little Wolf. Understandably, he is a little grumbly about Little Wolf ‘going off like that’, but quickly succumbs to the waving palm tree and the gently lapping waves of the ocean. Tossing his t-shirt into the air, Big Wolf and Little Wolf race to the water in a clear, but unspoken commitment to navigate the world together. The story ends, but of course, it doesn’t really end. Life will go on for these two sweet souls, I have no doubt.
And what does a piece of fruit have to do with it? I don’t know! In pursuing the beautiful orange, the ever cautious Big Wolf and the adventurous Little Wolf are able to move beyond the confines of their surroundings to a place neither one imagined. Or maybe…the orange is just an orange. Big Wolf & Little Wolf, Such a Beautiful Orange is first and foremost, a children’s picture book, a ridiculously clever and gorgeously illustrated children’s picture book. But sometimes, in the right hands, a picture book steps beyond it’s apparent simplicity and says something profound.
It is not necessary to read all three books in the series, as each are distinct, shimmering jewels, but something undeniably sublime emerges when all three are read as one: these funny, quirky, and quietly reflective picture books are about love~who we love, and why we love, and the lengths we will go to for love. In life, we are better off together than alone. And if we can be together on an island with palm trees and a really awesome beach, all the better.
It would seem that author Nadine Brun-Cosme and wolf-visualist extraordinaire Olivier Tallec materialized out of nowhere, but in fact, they are well-known French artists, who have published many children’s books in Europe and elsewhere. We have Enchanted Lion Books in Brooklyn, New York to thank for the debut of this magnificent series of books in North America. I would like to extend a personal thanks to Claudia at Enchanted Lion Books for spiriting a copy of Big Wolf & Little Wolf, Such a Beautiful Orange to me, care of the cold white north. It warmed an impossibly cold day.
Ms Brun-Cosme and Mr Tallec both live in France, hopefully near a beach.
Big Wolf & Little Wolf, The Little Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall (reviewed here) 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