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Brooklyn Wildllife

Wolves are rarely encountered on the streets of Brooklyn, but DUMBO resident John Rocco feels an affinity for the iconic figure he feels has been misrepresented in children’s literature. The artist just published a picture book, Wolf! Wolf!, the first book he has both written and illustrated. This one is told from the point of view of an aging wolf.

Rocco, the father of a 16-month old daughter, Alaya, says the book, where the old wolf needs a hearing aid, and has to soak his tired feet in a stream, reflects his own body’s demise, “I had just turned 40, and was starting to get the aches in the knees, pain in the back,” he recounts. Rocco adds that when he went back to reread the original Aesop fable of the boy who cried you-know-what, he remembered how, as a boy, “ I never really liked that kid — he was a bit of a jerk.” The goat herd inWolf! Wolf! is bored and calling “wolf” just to play a trick on the townspeople, but the wolf overhears and thinks he is being summoned. When this happens a couple of times, the wolf turns the tables on the boy and tells him the only way out is to hand over one of his goats.

The wolf here is truly misunderstood — he just wants to eat. But the goat turns out to present the wolf with a dilemma. The goat eats the weeds in the wolf’s garden, giving him easy access to many meals of vegetables. If the wolf eats the goat, he has one good meal, but keeping the goat alive means he can enjoy the produce for a long time. In another twist, sure to please vegetarians of all ages, the wolf lets the goat live. Rocco says he hadn’t thought much about thevegetarian slant; he was more focused on the old saying: ‘If you give a man a fish, you have fed him for today. If you teach a man to fish, you have fed him for a lifetime."

Rocco and his wife, Aileen Leijten, also a writer and children’s book illustrator, both worked for Disney, designing theme park attractions. But Rocco says the move to children’s books is a return to his true love. He is also the illustrator of the Whoopi Goldberg book, Call It Alice. “I just love books, the tactile nature, and the fact that it is your vision, from first word to finished product.” Leijten has two books in production; Rocco says he is currently working on “a bunch of books.”
Wolf! Wolf! is from Hyperion Books for Children. It’s $15.99 and recommended for ages 4-8.

Another wolf
In Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf, another elderly wolf attends a storybook tea party, where he hopes to snag some cookies. He learns from an etiquette book to “sip your tea and never slurp/say ‘excuse me’ if you burp”. Being a formerly big bad wolf, he adds, “Smile and have a lot of fun, but don’t go biting anyone!’ Judy Sierra’s text will make kids and adults laugh out loud (the wolf’s mail box is crammed with bills for house damage and cleaning a granny outfit, for instance), and it may incidentally reinforce good manners. Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99. Recommended for ages 4-8.

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