Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?: Responses to the Portrayal of Wolves in Picturebooks

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The wolf has existed alongside humans for centuries, both in reality and through literary and cultural representations. Consequently, the mere mention of the word 'wolf' evokes an immediate response within most people. Stereotypical images of this creature are embodied in traditional stories which have been passed on from one generation to the next. More recently, polysemic picturebooks offer renewed portrayals of the wolf, which challenge and extend the reader’s expectations of this character within stories. Such books employ metafictive devices to recast the wolf, encouraging readers to adopt an active approach when interpreting these texts. Beginning with a history of the wolf in literature, this chapter considers how the portrayal of wolves in contemporary picturebooks is often unconventional and thought-provoking. It then goes on to analyse the responses of a group of children, aged ten and eleven, as they read and discussed two polysemic picturebooks featuring the wolf. The children’s discussions around these idiosyncratic texts built upon their previous experience of this animal in folktales, fables and in reality. The overall findings demonstrate how such picturebooks provide rich opportunities for the development of reader-response, in relation to diverse, sometimes frightening, and often challenging, representations of the wolf.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChallenging and Controversial Picturebooks: Creative and Critical Responses to Visual Texts
EditorsJanet Evans
PublisherRoutledge: Taylor & Francis Group
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • children
  • reader response
  • picturebooks
  • wolf
  • wolves
  • reading
  • primary

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