In 2018, almost 19,000 children in Canada were victims of violent acts perpetrated by a family member. The Big Bad Wolf in My House, by Quebec duo Valérie Fontaine and Nathalie Dion (in an English translation by Shelley Tanaka), captures the terrifying first-hand experience of an unnamed child who is abused by her mother’s new partner. In both text and illustrations, the man is portrayed as a tall, unclothed wolf.
Fontaine uses an extended “Three Little Pigs” metaphor to portray the mounting danger after the wolf moves in. The girl tries to protect herself by hiding in blankets (which she likens to a house made of straw) and shutting her bedroom door (a house made of wood), with no success. Finally the girl says, “I built up a fort made of bricks. I put it up around my heart.” Structuring the story around a simple, familiar fairy tale serves as an effective, age-appropriate introduction to this tough topic for very young children.
Illustrator Dion plays into the fairy-tale narrative without obscuring the scary reality of the situation. Both mother and daughter have porcelain skin, voluminous hair, and Mad Men–worthy wardrobes; despite looking like the archetypal perfect family, they are still victims, implying this situation could befall anyone. Fontaine also sets most scenes in a house eerily empty of any personal effects with barely there, minimal furnishings. The effect is sterile, hollow, and unnerving, even in the midst of the soft, predominantly pink-and-beige colour palette. While no physical abuse is visually depicted, one frame of the wolf arching his back, a frenzied slit for an eye and his whole body outlined in red while he howls, is truly frightening.
In the end, the mother and daughter wind up at a safe house with other families (who, it should be noted, have varied skin tones). But this book, thoughtfully and intentionally shared by a caring adult, is not just for victims. If children who suffer abuse at home are to find compassion and support, their peers need this book, too.