Neil Gaiman (writer) and Dave McKean (artist),
The Wolves in the Walls
(HarperCollins, 2003)

Lucy is sure there are wolves in the walls. She can hear them at night, prowling and carousing. So she tells her mother.

"'I'm sure it's not wolves,' said her mother. 'For you know what they say... If the wolves come out of the walls, then it's all over.'

'What's all over?' asked Lucy.

'It,' said her mother. 'Everybody knows that.'"

Eventually, of course, and in an exuberant splash page, the wolves come out of the walls. But it's not all over. Not by a long shot.

The Wolves in the Walls is exactly what one would expect from a picture book written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean: a charmingly surreal trifle full of dream-logic twists and rhymes begging to be read aloud, featuring unexpected appearances by strange people and rowdy wolves, and all of it seen through the eyes of a small but determined girl who could be Coraline's little sister.

While Gaiman has been criticized for writing passive protagonists, from his Sandman cycle, in which Morpheus is often only a peripheral character, to the nonentity Shadow in American Gods, this only seems to apply to his male characters. From Death to Delirium to Coraline, his female protagonists seize the stage and make things happen. Lucy is no exception. She's believable as a very young child who's devoted to her pig puppet, and equally believable when she decides not to let the wolves drive her out of her house.

Dave McKean employs a art shop worth of media to create the illustrations, from photographic collages to line drawings to cubist paintings. His anything-goes style creates moods which turn on a page from raucous to tender to nightmarish.

The Wolves in the Walls is a light and funny fable, similar to Gaiman and McKean's other picture-book, The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish. Don't look here for the archetypal power or eeriness of Coraline. This comic nightmare plays upon the midnight fear of noises in the walls, and the anytime fear, familiar to college roommates and parents of teenage children, of people invading your house and messing with your stuff. But where Coraline's Other Mother was genuinely disturbing, the wolves are only a nuisance. There's nothing scary enough in The Wolves in the Walls to prevent it from becoming a much-requested bedtime read. It made me wish I had a child, so I could request it myself.

[Rachel Manija Brown]