There are many ways to categorise and organise personality types; one of which is those who love the structure of a clearly defined plot line which ends with a satisfying conclusion, as opposed to others who delight in the possibilities offered by enigma, mystery and alternatives. ‘Mr Wuffles!’ by David Wiesner is certainly a delight for the latter of these!
From the cover and first few images of this largely wordless text, it would be easy to mistake it for a rather conventional picture book about the eponymous Mr Wuffles. However, within a few pages it becomes clear that the central feline character is about to get a new toy!
As a cat owner myself, I share the frustration of the owners in the story who purchase what they feel is a stimulating new plaything, only for the fussy feline to prefer a ball of string! However, Mr Wuffles discovers that his latest toy is actually the conveyance of a group of miniscule aliens!
The jubilation of the very little green men, upon arriving on the planet, is short lived when they are ‘attacked’ by Mr Wuffles! The remainder of the story takes the reader on a humorous trip amongst the dusty corners of any average home; as the aliens team up with some equally cat-oppressed minibeasts who work together to escape from the clutches of Mr Wuffles!
This book is full of potential! Throughout the text, the aliens are seen to speak using a strange symbolic language. It would be great for the children to try to replace the symbolic language with their own speech bubbles, literally putting words into the mouths of the aliens in each scene – essentially an educational caption competition. It would be really fun to explore the different alternative conversations generated by a class of children.
In addition, the aliens learn to communicate with the local minibeasts using the insect version of prehistoric cave paintings. They create these using found materials (bits of chalk, charcoal etc.) Perhaps the children could create their own cave paintings depicting the events of the story. They could use found materials around the playground, marking their story onto the concrete or they could create a 3D cave painting by arranging found objects on the ground to help create their tale. If you are feeling more adventurous, ordinary classroom paint mixed with some pva glue (you need to experiment with your recipe!) creates a beautifully rubberised paint which can be applied to a rock, concrete or wood surface which will then dry to a durable finish – extending the life of your cave paintings by a few weeks.
I know of many children who would be enthralled by the code-like communication used by the aliens. Perhaps they could be challenged to devise the alien’s alphabetic, which they can then use to communicate with each other or to create classroom labels and signs. This would be great in a role play area designed around the interior of the alien space-craft – they could label all the buttons and gizmos. They would even create the communications sent to the explorer craft from the mothership or the explorer’s reports back to their HQ about the terrifying cat monster they have encountered.
It would be equally intriguing to tell the alluded to but untold story of the minibeasts who have been suffering at the paws of Mr Wuffles. The children could develop their own narrative based on these tales.
At the end of the story, one of the minbeasts end up leaving with the aliens in their spacecraft. This would be a wonderfully original launching point for some sci-fi writing, as it would provide a set of characters who are immediately ‘alien’ rather than the more obvious ‘human-meets-alien’ approach; has anyone ever written an insect-meets- alien sci-fi story?!?
Additionally, the final image shows the remaining insects being left with a series of broken technology from the alien spacecraft. These could form the basis of some wonderfully explanation or instructional writing, based around the insects working out how this technology might help to protect them from or defeat Mr Wuffles!
Above all else, this is a fun and entertaining story that will not fail to raise a smile!