March 08, 2021

The Big Bad Wolf in My House

Written by Valérie Fontaine
Illustrated by Nathalie Dion
Translated by Shelley Tanaka
Groundwood Books
978-1-77306-501-4
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
March 2021

It's International Women's Day and, to women who find themselves in abusive home circumstances and explore ways to cope including fighting back legally or finding shelter elsewhere, we stand by you, and Valérie Fontaine and Nathalie Dion offer hope.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion
A little girl could always see through the wolf who married her mother.
He batted his eyelashes and purred like a pussycat
in front of my mother.
But he looked at me with cold eyes and sharp teeth.
The honeymoon was sour, like lemons.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion
But when her mother gets home late from work one day, the wolf show his true self, shouting names and hurling food. The child removes herself from the situation, but she can see the impact it has on her mother whose smile begins to droop along with her body.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion
Her mother tries to shield her child but the wolf is scary, leaving finger marks on the girl's arms and coming into her room as he chooses.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion
But one day, with only five minutes notice, her mother declares that they are leaving. They go to a house full of kind mothers and children but no wolves. 
The big bad wolf can huff and puff all he wants,
but this house will not fall down.
The little girl knows the tale about a big bad wolf. It's the one where he huffs and puffs to blow the house down. The little ones in the story try to protect themselves in shelters of straw and wood but to no avail. Same with this child. She tries a fortress of blankets to shield herself, or a closed door of wood but neither stops the big bad wolf. She does build "a fort made of bricks. I put it up around my heart." But it's not until they go to a new house, a shelter for women and children, that they find safety.

Told from the child's perspective and analogous to the story of the big bad wolf and the three little pigs, The Big Bad Wolf in My House makes a situation of domestic abuse very disquietingly elementary. The mother marries a man who is abusive to her and her child. He may appear sheep-like to begin with but he's dangerous. Both mother and child find ways to cope with the physical or emotional attacks, but coping is not safety. It's just a delay. Both in its original French (Le grand méchant loup dans ma maison, 2020) and this English edition (translated by Shelley Tanaka), Valérie Fontaine's story demonstrates the impact of domestic abuse on the whole family and how adults and children find their own ways to survive. Though she parallelizes the chilling abuse of a man against his new wife and stepchild with a child's fable, Valérie Fontaine never, never trivializes the situation, only gives it context. After all, the big bad wolf could be any one. 

I was just introduced to Nathalie Dion's work last week (I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol) and realize how versatile her art is, creating lightness and hope in one book and now tension and despair in The Big Bad Wolf in My House. Painting by hand with gouache and digitally with a pastel brush, Nathalie Dion still imbues her illustrations with the starkness of the family situation, engulfed with shadows and angles and using colour and lightness minimally and generally only associated with the child or situations outside the home. 

Some may despair of this tale of domestic abuse but Valérie Fontaine and Nathalie Dion have taken us through the darkness from a child's perspective and shown us an outcome that offers the promise of respite.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion

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