Mr Wolf’s Pancakes

Methuen/Egmont Publisher - Published January 7th 2013 by Egmont Books (UK) 

Mr Wolf's Pancakes - Mr Wolf is feeling hungry! He fancies some pancakes. But the trouble is, he doesn’t know how to make them. When he goes to ask his neighbours, they’re a mean and horrible lot who refuse to help him. So poor Mr Wolf has to work it out, all by himself.

So what happens when these nasty neighbours want to help Mr Wolf eat his delicious pancakes…?

First published aaaaages ago in 1999, by Methuen, who later became Egmont. It was my second picture book with them.

Mr Wolf has been reprinted many times, so you might have seen some of these versions…There was even a sweet little mini book.

Mr Wolf's original cover

Mr Wolf's Pancakes cd version

Mr Wolf's Pancakes latest cover

It feels really weird to write about a book I made so long ago, especially when my art style has changed so much and my most recent book is all digital art. Mr Wolf is probably my best–known title. It’s won me lots of awards and he’s been shortlisted for some really “big ­life­–changey type” awards so many times I’m embarrassed to say, but “Always the bridesmaid” as the saying goes…

I can’t grumble too much, because the books that beat him were absolutely great.

Mr Wolf is one of my favourite characters.  Mr Wolf’s Pancakes started out in exactly the same way as many of my stories: a silly idea in my head and a strange little drawing in a sketchbook. He is so much fun to draw!

 

At the time I wrote the story, I was working as a literacy consultant and had the privilege of working with all sorts of wonderful children and parents from all kinds of backgrounds. I noticed that even children at the very start of their reading development really knew and responded to the iconography of all the traditional fairy tales and nursery rhyme characters. One of the many reasons why it’s so important to read to children!!!! This inspired me to write Mr Wolf’s Pancakes.

I wanted to take characters that children would be familiar and comfortable with and then shake things up a bit. I personally love it when writers play with iconography and make characters behave in unexpected ways, and I feel that there’s no reason why children shouldn’t enjoy the same! It’s such fun to play with expected themes, and turn them upside down, and children understand this very well, even at the earliest stages.

But as I was writing, I wanted – as I always do – the child to be at the centre of the story. I can’t bear it when children’s books are written just for adults, or with one eye on a tv series or a merchandising campaign. As a children’s author, I think one has to step away from being cool or zeitgeisty and playing up to the adult audience, and just think about where children are at and what they will relate to and enjoy. Child–centred is best. But what do I know! Actually, as an ex teacher who has taught hundreds of children to read and worked all over the place running literacy workshops, I reckon I do know what I’m talking about!

So I thought about all the things that children would be learning to do at that stage in their schooling to incorporate into the narrative – learning to read, learning to count, spending money, learning to write, organising themselves, cooking – and learning how to act when friends are being mean to them… Mr Wolf is the child who has to cope with all of these things…

So when I started the book, I wanted it to be (whisper it) very subversive. So, it appears on the surface to be a very traditional book, with pen and ink and watercolour illustrations. I hoped that this would make the ending even more subversive and shocking.

Incidentally, children tell me that the ending is their favourite bit!

And Parents complain to me: “I have to read that damn book twenty times a night.” I wish I could say I’m sorry, but I’m not!   He he.

When I started the artwork, I was frightened but excited about making the book. I like to work really rough and quickly at first, to develop the characters and get to know them. I drew very rough thumbnails, so I could get a feel for where the page turns would be at certain points in the story. Page turns are SUCH an important part of the layout and pacing of a story. As I’m drawing, I imagine how it will sound when I read the story out loud, how the rhythm of the language feels. 

I then developed these further, trying to work out the palette – I made an A3 page of tiny thumbnails so I could get an overview of how things were working. I kept things very loose so I could really enjoy making the artwork, and keep things fresh.

 

Sometimes I make models of my characters so I can draw them from different angles…

I wanted to make certain that although the overall feel of the book is traditional, I sneaked in little ‘modern’ familiar things into the illustrations…

Here, you can see Mr Wolf has been shopping at a well-known Swedish furniture store…I have these very shelves in my studio! (And check out his apron when he gets down to making his pancakes.) Children love seeing him struggling to read the recipe book: they shout out “It’s UPSIDE DOWN!!!!” It’s so important to me to make the children relate to the main character but also feel slightly ‘more experienced and knowing,’ like a bigger sibling, if you will. It adds to their enjoyment and confidence in the story.

I made a conscious decision to make the other characters, the neighbours, as unpleasant and unfriendly as possible.

Mr Wolf and the gingerbread man. I love all the childish sweeties in this picture. Especially the wafer biscuits on the roof.

Another part of the story which I think really resonates with children is the moment when the neighbours make Mr Wolf cry. Who hasn’t been reduced to tears in the playground? It’s such an all- consuming sense of hurt. There is always such indignation when I read this part to children.

So Mr wolf has to do all his tasks, all by himself, without any help. But he tries his best, and all the way through manages to remain a nice, polite and cute little wolf. But when his nasty neighbours push him too far….just like the best of us, he lapses!

This is the only time you ever see Mr Wolf’s teeth. This is the best way I could think of depicting in a not too graphic way – what had happened to the horrible neighbours! When you turn the page, Mr Wolf is back to his sweet little self, having a nap in his chair – sleeping off a very satisfying meal.