Friday, September 20, 2013

Close Encounters: Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner


Mr. Wuffles is a laconic tuxedo cat who finds store-bought cat toys, polka-dotted mice, balls with bells inside, assorted things with feathers--beneath his notice.

But among those pathetic objects that obviously only appeal to those dumb cats, there is ONE thing that has a novel appeal.

It is a football-shaped metal thing with legs, looking like nothing so much a miniature colander with a lid, but obviously it has an enticing smell that intrigues Mr. Wuffles. Strange sounds are emanating from the object, and Mr. Wuffles gives it the cat treatment, rolling over and batting it with his paws, carrying it about in his mouth, and giving it a trial bite.

But inside that apparent toy are five tiny, badly shaken-up space aliens, rubbing their battered green heads and moaning and groaning in their own language, mostly triangles and squares with exclamation points. Their equipment is damaged, too, as  their green-clad chief engineer discovers. Their red-robed captain leads them out of the spacecraft where they are suddenly menaced by a black and white paw with notable claws.  Fleeing under the radiator and  inside the walls,  they meet up with an assortment of household ants and beetles and see that the insects have already chronicled their cat conflicts in cave-style drawings on the internal wall, showing Mr. Wuffles in all his fang-and-claw ferocity!

Despite the language barrier between the minuscule aliens and the assorted hexapods, they form an alliance of convenience against their mutual enemy. They seal their mutual defense pact with a ceremonial feast from the ants' cracker cache. That done. the ants and beetles haul in a supply of roundish objects--screw shanks, pencil erasers--candies--from which the aliens slice disks which they use to repair their engine.

Obviously, a diversionary tactic is going to be required to allow the alien space ship to escape Mr. Wuffles' orbit.  The ants and an airborne ladybug keep the cat distracted long enough for the extraterrestrials to launch their ship through the window just ahead of the disgruntled Mr. Wuffles' claws, which embed themselves in the windowsill as he watches them soar toward space beyond his backyard.

Five-time Caldecott  honoree, David Wiesner, clearly has another winner in his Mr. Wuffles!(Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2013), another of his comedic fantastical stories that concludes quixotically, still leaving the "reader" of this almost wordless book with plenty to ponder. For his tiny space travelers, Wiesner collaborated with a linguist to create a graphic language which kids who love codes and cyphers will enjoy, and his cryptic will provide readers with plenty of open-ended inspiration to continue the story of Mr. Wuffles and his adversarial allies.

Using his own cat, Cricket, as model, Wiesner creates a central character who is a totally real-looking cat, who like most of his clan, disdains his owner's proffered cat toys without even a sniff. Wiesner's aliens, however, are another story, fanciful robed figures somewhere between humanoid and ant-like, and the collusion between these space travelers and household vermin is a comic contrast to Mr. Wuffles' predictably catlike vigil at the crack beneath the radiator. A master of storytelling in graphic form, Wiesner has the critics in the palm of his paw in this one, a new classic that, as Booklist's reviewer writes, readers will "pounce on."

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