Reviews /

Big Bad Wolf Investigates Fairy Tales

Authored by Catherine Cawthorne
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Tagged , , , , , ,

Each of the six fairy tales included in this book sits within an investigative context in which The Big Bad Wolf has the mission of ‘Fact-checking your favourite stories with science’.  The Big Bad Wolf poses questions at the end of each story (The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Princess and the Pea and Little Red Riding Hood) about its relationship with the real world. Questions include:

  • Can wolves huff and puff?
  • Could you really wear a pair of glass slippers?
  • Wouldn’t a gingerbread house in a forest go all soggy and fall down in the rain?
  • How fast could Jack chop the beanstalk down?
  • Nobody could really feel a pea through two giraffe’s worth of mattresses and feathers could they?
  • Are big eyes really all the better to see with?

Answering these, and other questions, The Big Bad Wolf, also provides the reader with some practical experiments such as the ‘Princess Bottom Pants Sensitivity Test’. 

In a field in which fairy tales are regularly twisted to the point that they retain only a tangential relationship with more traditional versions, it is quite refreshing to see a tale in which the story is (for the most part – more of which below) is as a general reading public would expect. Of course, presenting the wolf as an investigative scientist, and who is misrepresented in so many traditional stories, is itself a twist, and one that prompts a question  about where young children can place their fears once story monsters cease being monstrous.

Sara Ogilvie’s illustrations have a cartoon-like simplicity through which she provides a familiar cast of characters, human and animal. Echoing the work of other contemporary illustrators, she does, however, avoid a completely white cast and represents main characters from a mixture of racial groups, as well as allowing characters from the other stories in the book to creep into each fairy tale. Similarly, while I have said that this book avoids twisting familiar versions of the tales, in Catherine Cawthorne’s version of Little Red Riding Hood, the heroine saves herself rather than waiting for a man to save her from the wolf’s stomach – of course, this shouldn’t really be counted as a twist, as tales in which Red Riding Hood has agency predate versions in which she is the passive female saved by the male.

This book would be ideal as an individual reader for children in Year 2 and Year 3 or as a storied introduction to the scientific method in Key Stage 1. I could see myself using this book, however, in all of Key Stage 2 as a prompt to discussion around the characteristics of fairy tale and fantasy.