Values: Empathy, Friendship and Responsibility.
I can't believe I haven't reviewed one of Mini Grey's books on my blog yet! I've used them endlessly (this is an old library copy). I think every child I have read one of Mini Grey's books to has delighted in it. One of the highlights for me as a teacher was at my last school in Oxford when Mini came to officially open the library and give an assembly to the children. They talked about it for weeks!
The Last Wolf is a twist on the classic fable of Little Red Riding Hood. In this funny and heart-warming version, adventurous Little Red goes into the forest and happens to come across the Last Wolf, balancing on the brink of extinction! The Last Wolf is living with the Last Lynx and the Last Bear - all at risk of extinction to make room for humans. They welcome Little Red in and recount the 'good old days' when they could run through the forest hunting and scavenging. Now, their food sources are sadly the bins - leftover food humans don't want, all wrapped in tricky packaging. Little Red, being empathetic, shares her packed lunch with them and thinks of a plan to help her newfound friends. At the end of the story, we see Little Red and her mum planting some trees to help save the animals and their habitat.
This story appeals to children as young as two and a half (I've read it to my nieces!) right through primary school. It's comic illustrations and playful, rhyming linguistics make it fun to read, and there are jokes for the adults too. The story is more than just a light laugh though - it recasts Little Red as an eco-warrior in a time when we know too well the effects of global warming and human activity on the lives of animals. A great book to unpick with all children!
As I have already mentioned, we see Little Red as an empathetic heroine. She listens to the animals' problems and tries her best to help them out. Little Red is saddened by their fate of hunting through humans' rubbish for their next meal and being confined to one tree (albeit a beautiful home hidden inside the trunk of a tree!) as their land is taken from around them. The Value of empathy is very easy to spot and discuss. I also like the way Little Red doesn't just empathise, she uses this to spur her into action and begins planting seeds as soon as she gets home.
Furthermore, we see the Value of friendship. Little Red not only befriends the Last Wolf, Last Lynx and Last Bear, she ignores the stereotypes of what these characters might be like and chooses to make her own judgements. The three 'Lasts' also do not compete with each other for the remaining scrap of land, but work together to support and care one another. A great example of friendship between characters who may be different species, and who may all individually be at risk of extinction.
Lastly, I would discuss the Value of responsibility with children. What responsibility do humans have to animals and the environment? What can we do individually to ensure our actions don't hurt or take from others? How can we be responsible for making the world a sustainable place? Children often love learning about animals and the world and are fascinated by people like Sir David Attenborough. Having discussions around global issues such as sustainability and protection of species can stem from a picturebook such as this. I think Mini Grey has done an excellent job of making conversations we may assume are too 'big' for children really accessible, even for our youngest readers.
Mini Grey has written a whole host of great books and no doubt more of them will feature on the blog. For now though, you can find your own copy in Blackwell's (incidentally, Mini lives in Oxford and so it would be even better to support a local bookshop!) - it would make a lovely present. You can also follow her on Twitter: @Bonzetta1
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