Author: David Wiesner
Publisher: Clarion Books,
32 pages, fiction
When is a book with a cat on its cover not really about a cat? When it’s by the always surprising David Wiesner.
IF David Wiesner wasn’t already one of my favourite illustrators/storytellers, his latest book, Mr Wuffles, would have sealed the deal. You know how I love cats – I have two and I’m looking forward to my children moving out and making more room for more. I feel I will most certainly end my days as a crazy cat lady and I am quite prepared to be eaten by my animals after my death – an ecological form of disposal, surely. I just hope I don’t make them sick.
Anyway, Mr Wuffles is, as you may have surmised, a cat – a gorgeous black-and-white tom, based on one of the author/illustrator’s two pet felines. Mr Wuffles is a really silly name and just look at the cat’s expression on the book jacket: Really, it’s like he’s thinking, “What the hell did I do to deserve a name like that?” This is my cat Igor’s permanent expression, and it’s an expression I believe many cat owners will recognise. But what’s genius is that combination of a contemptuous countenance with an apathetic pose. “My face says I hate you, but my body language says you’re beneath my notice.” I wish I could get it right, but as I’m not a cat I don’t think I’ll ever succeed.
I love Wiesner because you never know what to expect from him. My favourite of his books is Tuesday, in which frogs take to the air. Then there’s Flotsam, featuring a mysterious camera and an intriguing and fantastic set of photographs. And Art & Max which explores the creative impulse and process through the characters, experiences and styles of two art enthusiasts.
Mr Wuffles is ostensibly about a pet cat but don’t expect a Mog-like chronicle. This cat, in the first place, is not quite the benign, kind-hearted type of pet represented by Judith Kerr’s creation (RIP Mog). Mr Wuffles, as you can tell from those narrowed eyes and those cynically positioned whiskers, would as soon kill you as look at you ... the only reason he doesn’t finish you off is that it would take too much time and energy and you are not worth it. Mr Wuffles is very selective about the way he spends his time and energy, and so he doesn’t usually respond when given a new toy.
This book is about Mr Wuffles finally thinking that one of his toys is worth his notice. It’s a spaceship – and it’s not actually a toy, which is probably why Mr Wuffles is interested: the aliens who man it are simply fresh meat to this evil cat! To tell you the truth, Mr Wuffles’ reaction to the flying saucer and its crew is less interesting than the crew themselves, who are tiny insect-like green men, dressed in long robes and speaking a language presented by geometrically-shaped symbols.
The aliens meet and befriend a colony of ants living in the skirting board and the interaction between these two groups made me laugh out loud. The ants, as their wall murals show, hate Mr Wuffles and this facilitates cooperation between them and the aliens. Together, these tiny creatures make a plan to thwart the cat and they succeed!
Poor Mr Wuffles? Hardly. Although they can’t help their hunting instincts, the cold-blooded way cats “play” with their victims is surely the least endearing thing about them. Neither, I must say, is the way they leave their kills as “gifts” for their owners. Should I be flattered by a beheaded mouse? A wingless bird? A legless frog? It’s OK, you can scream and scold and your cat will merely curl up and go to sleep.
Just like most of Wiesner’s books, Mr Wuffles has minimal text. The illustrator uses full page art as well as framed smaller sequences to tell his story. In either case, there are lots of details to pore over – I especially love the random household objects that wind up behind the skirting board, that are used by the aliens to get their ship working again.
Mr Wuffles is a bit of a red-herring – both the title and the character. This is not a cuddly cat, nor is it really the tale of a cat, cuddly or otherwise. It’s a cracker of a story, nevertheless, and shows that Wiesner knows his cats. So what if it’s not really about Mr Wuffles, it should be called Mr Wuffles anyhow.
> Daphne Lee is a writer, editor, book reviewer and teacher. She runs a Facebook group called The Places You Will Go for lovers of all kinds of literature. Write to her at email@example.com.