Posted by: Sarah Stokes | April 14, 2011

Reading about reading ….

A Cultivated Wolf

A Cultivated Wolf

Pascal Biet (trans. Becky Bloom), Hampshire: Siphano Picture Books, hb. 960-7930-10-X, £11.88 (amazon.co.uk), 1999, 24pp.

This book and I share quite a history. I first discovered it at an UKRA conference on reading in Winchester, in the year of its UK publication. I loved it instantly and bought my copy within a few days of my return to London. Its quirky illustrative style, its use of both colour and black and white image, its characterisations appealed to me on every level as a lover of picture books. Most of all, I loved the way in which it reflected and ultimately celebrated reading as a way of life.

A hungry and painfully skinny wolf arrives in a village, with aching feet and only enough money left for emergencies. From the first image, he is unaware of the alarm his presence is wreaking, seen only by the reader in the faces of the villagers behind him in the picture. All he wants is some food and a place to rest.

He comes to a farmhouse, set in open rolling countryside, and decides to approach it as only a wolf knows how – with plenty of howling, teeth-barring and unleashing of claws. In the farmyard sit a cow, a duck and a pig, none of whom raise even an eyebrow at this wild intrusion. They are too busy immersed in reading their books. Various cultural images surround them, at odds with the expectation of their natural habitat as farm animals: a plate of healthy snacks, a pile of unread literature, a tea cup and pot; the cow is wearing a pair of spectacles as he reads. They make it clear to the wolf that he is not welcome if he is going to make such a racket.

It is this rejection that sets the wolf along his own path of learning to read. The narrative has him follow a similar route to that of most young readers: he begins with the stilted texts of type ‘Run, wolf, run. See wolf run.’ which leave the farm animals less than impressed, despite the wolf’s efforts in reaching this level. He then works on his fluency, which has him reading far too fast and running out of breath before reaching the end. He goes to school, where he excels, he visits the local library and, at last, he reaches a level of reading ability where he is accepted by the farm animals, now keen to become his friends.

Despite the pomposity of the farmyard group towards the wolf’s early endeavours, I think this book encapsulates what it is we should be aiming to teach our children when engaging them in the process of reading. When he finally matures as a fluent reader, the wolf is described as reading ‘with confidence and passion’, during which the animals ‘…. all listened, and said not one word.’ If that’s not the essence of the reading experience, I’m not sure what is.

Back in 1999, I read this book to a school hall full of parents at the start of an evening’s workshop on how we were teaching their children to read. I wanted them to see beyond the process, the decomposition of narrative into words to be decoded, phonic recognition skills and searching for contextual cues. I also wanted them to think about reading beyond the realms of Key Stage 1 SATs tasks which were looming for some of their children at the time. ‘Confidence and passion’ is a phrase I alluded to on more than one occasion during the evening as questions were raised as, as far as I’m concerned, these should pervade every reader’s approach to the process and should be central to their reading experience.

HT to Siphano for cover image

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Responses

  1. What a great post and a great idea..I will be looking this book up…confidence and passion you are so right..great post…and nice to meet you…Eliza Keating

    • Thanks, Eliza! I’m really glad you like my site.
      Sarah


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