review: A Werewolf Named Oliver James
author: Nicholas Jon Frith
date: 2018; Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Children’s Books
main character: Oliver James
Oliver’s mom has always told him to come straight home for dinner. Oliver is drawn as a black child with dark skin and curly hair. On an evening, with a full moon the bus is late and he is caught waiting with his friends as the sun goes down. He is transformed into a werewolf right there at the bus stop. It seems that everyone waiting on the bus was part of Oliver’s music class and most everyone except Oliver was with an adult family member.
When Oliver transforms, he is the only one left at the stop. He has frightened everyone away.
This young boy of African descent has become a monster and has scared all the white people away. Oliver doesn’t realize what has happened to him, he has no idea why everyone has run from him. As the bus approaches, all the passengers are terrified and the driver does not stop for him. The lighting on the bus renders them identifiable as white. Hands up, he’s trying to flag the bus to stop.
Oliver decides to walk home, terrifying everyone he meets along the way. When he sees his reflection in a puddle and realizes that he’s a werewolf, he’s amazed with himself and begins to explore his powerful new werewolf abilities, frightening everyone who sees him along the way. I can’t help but wonder why white men in the book are aiming objects at Oliver, almost as if they want to shoot him. They don’t know he’s just a child because they only see a monster.
Most of the people he encounters do seem to be white but, it’s difficult to be certain because of the shading used to represent nighttime.
When he arrives at home, he doesn’t want to enter because he doesn’t want to scare his parents.
But, when he walks inside, he sees that they too, are werewolves. It’s as if he’d never seen them transform before.
On the last page, he and his parents are eating breakfast at the table, all three human again, clearly people of African descent.
I’m not sure what you, the author, illustrator, editor or publishers may have seen in this story but, I’m seeing a young boy of African descent on the streets at night being perceived as a monster. I do not refer to him as African American because this book was originally published in the United Kingdom. He’s black or of African descent. He has super human strength and white people are terrified of him and quite actually, he comes from a family of monsters. We simply cannot afford to represent young black boys in this manner.
@teacher2library pointed this book out=2 on Twitter.
She wasn’t comfortable with it, knew there was something wrong with the book and talked through it with a few friends until they were able to verbalize concerns. @teacher2library is an adult who was able to articulate this with friends. What are our children supposed to do with this book?
No, I do not recommend A Werewolf Named Oliver James.