I enjoyed Frank Asch's two Cardboard Genius books for early middle grade readers (Star Jumper and Gravity Buster). So I was pleased when Happy Birthday, Big Bad Wolf arrived, especially when it arrived right in time for Baby Bookworm's Birthday Week celebration.
Happy Birthday, Big Bad Wolf is based very loosely on the story of the three little pigs. The only real similarity is that there are three pigs, and there is a big bad wolf who tries to eat them. In Frank Asch's version, however, Big Bad Wolf isn't so much stymied by the cleverness of the pigs. Rather, he's won over by kindness.
When the Big Bad Wolf shows up on their doorstep, Momma Pig and Poppa Pig quickly tell their son, Little Pig, to hide. Reminded of his grandfather's surprise party, Little Pig naturally enough assumes that it's Big Bad Wolf's birthday, and pops out to say "Surprise!!!". Figuring that some birthday cake could be a nice way to wash down a meal of little piggies, Big Bad Wolf goes along with the whole birthday thing. But it turns out to be rather difficult to go ahead and eat people who have just celebrated your birthday with you.
There's a tongue-in-cheek, subversive quality to Happy Birthday, Big Bad Wolf. As I read, I was half expecting a black humor-ish ending, in which the wolf is NOT reformed after all. I think this is because part of the story is told from the wolf's viewpoint. So we get passages like:
"Now we EAT!" declared the Big Bad Wolf.
"Wait!" cried Little Pig. "First you have to make a secret wish and blow out your candles!"
"Right," said the Big Bad Wolf, and he wished the Pig family hadn't been so nice to him.
Then he huffed and he puffed and he not only blew out the candles, he blew the candles right off the cake!"
Older picture book readers will snicker at the notion that the wolf still wants to eat the Pig family, even as he's getting ready to eat cake.
Asch's illustrations, rendered in Photoshop, have a bit of a cartoon quality, with bold lines and pure, untextured backgrounds. Little Pig is relentlessly cheerful, while his parents sometimes betray their nervousness through furrowed brows. Big Bad Wolf slinks around in a white t-shirt and blue vest, and looks quite comical when he opens his birthday gift, and tries to EAT a snuggle toy.
Happy Birthday, Big Bad Wolf is a fun read for preschoolers and early elementary school kids (a bit over the head of toddlers). We'll be keeping it to read on birthdays, and to read with The Three Little Tamales and Tell the Truth, B.B. Wolf (on my TBR pile).
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: February 1, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).