Woolvs in the Sitee Review

Woolvs in the Sitee
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Margaret Wild is one of Australia's most successful, imaginative and challenging writers for children, and Woolvs in the Sitee the bravest to date. It is a beautiful and frightening book, with poetic language rich with unsettling imagery and metaphor. It presents a dystopic post-Western world, in which people vanish and `woolvs' prowl. The exact nature of these woolvs is never quite spelt out.
Nor, for that matter, is anything else: the most striking aspect of Woolvs in the Sitee is the phonetic spelling that forms the voice of protagonist Ben. The device speaks of his interrupted schooling, the disappearance of his family, and mirrors the collapse of his society. Anne Spudvilas' illustrations are spellbinding, full of shadows and menace, amplifying the unnerving and paranoid atmosphere.
The book deserves the awards it has won (and will no doubt win). However, the book is challenging, and I do wonder who the intended readers are. Younger children are not cognitively developed enough to understand the many metaphors and resonances essential to grappling with the text. By the time older children have matured enough to understand the text, they generally reject picture books.
To test the theory I ran the book past my three girls. Each reacted quite differently: my six-year-old Dr-Seuss-fan was terrified; my eight-year-old Harry-Potter-freak was bored; and my ten-year-old, who is mid-way through The Lord of the Rings and attempting to translate the Elvish, was badly irritated by the spelling, which she found made it difficult to read physically. In Piagetian terms, the eldest has moved on from concrete to formal logic, but even so, none of my girls was as excited by the book as I was.
Likewise, I was unable to persuade any of the three to 'read' past the first page of Shaun Tan's beautiful The Arrival.
Is Woolvs in the Sitee then an attempt by adults to push post-modern genre-straddling texts onto children for the children's own good? Is there an intellectual didactic purpose behind its authorship, which is rejected by kids as they reject all preaching? Is the book really aimed at well-meaning, literary parents hoping to broaden their children's minds? These are probably questions which arise whenever children's books break with expectations.
It's refreshing to see a child's book that isn't all pastel-pink fairy-floss and no fillings, but my feeling is that Woolvs in the Sitee is possibly too alienating for many of its intended audience.

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