Be Wild, Little One– written by Olivia Hope, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2023
There are no quiet indoor voices in this book. The narrator directly addresses an outgoing and active child whose imagination takes flight in the natural world. In brightly colored pictures and rhythmic text set in large font, she rides with elephants, wings with chimpanzees, and travels into a storm in her hot air balloon made of dandelion. There is no return home to a hot supper (apologies to Maurice Sendak) and no transition to the everyday world. Be Wild, Little One is a straightforward celebration of untamed childhood.
There are realistic elements to the girl. She wears a striped t-shirt and shorts, and her hair is no more unruly than might be expected. When she appears nesting inside a flower or riding on an elephant’s trunk, she is still identifiable as a real person. The scale of her adventures varies, since in the flower scene she is smaller than a butterfly, but just the size one would expect in relation to the elephant. She defies gravity when dancing with fireflies, but runs on the ground alongside a rabbit. The colors of nature predominate in Daniel Egnéus’s images: the star white of snow, a fading blue night sky, the deep green of a forest.
Olivia Hope’s words mix description and metaphor, although children reading or listening to the book need not see that distinction. When the girl is told to “Run with wolves through mountain snow,” there are no perils suggested by that activity. On the other hand, “Stomp and stamp, clap and cheer. Sing your song for all to hear!” corresponds to any child’s ordinary activities. There is implied reassurance in the reminder that “Storms will come, but storms will go,” and an allusion to classic fairy tales in the direction to wish on a star. Every one of these scenarios is part of the definition of childhood as a time of unfettered freedom.
No doubt, children know that their routines are not defined by befriending wild animals or sitting atop a castle, but they also know that such imaginary journeys sometimes surface in the midst of more mundane events. By insistently repeating the message to “Be wild,” Hope implies that the two parts of life don’t need to contradict one another. The book’s assumption is a refreshing one. Sometimes kids just need to be wild, without specifying the inevitable return to reality.