an exploration of the foibles of rules and ownership

by Oliver Jeffers – HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2012
ages 2 to 8 years / emotional resilience, funny

Ownership is a slippery concept, especially where pets are concerned. Is it really possible to own another living thing—and how does the pet view your relationship anyway! It gets even more complex if your ‘pet’ is actually a wild animal.

Wilfred is pretty sure he owns a moose! He calls the moose Marcel and gives him a list of rules, some of which the moose follows really well, others not so well.

But Wilfred is happy and content in the knowledge that the moose belongs to him.

He has just started making long-term plans when "... he makes a terrible discovery …Someone else thought they owned the moose.”

An old lady calls the moose Rodrigo and beguiles him with an apple.

Wilfred insists he owns the moose and when things don’t go his way he storms off home. In a funny set of coincidental moments that he ascribes to his ownership of the moose, Wilfred is rescued and he and the moose reach a compromise:

The moose would agree to all of Wilfred’s rules … whenever it suited him.

It’s a very funny story about mistaken identity, confused roles, and tenuous ownership. There are some great teaching messages too, including these:

Ownership is rarely as cut and dried as we imagine. Wilfred finally recognises that, perhaps, 'he’d never really owned the moose anyway.’ Often what we perceive as ownership is more akin to friendship or stewardship. And perhaps that can extend to more than a one to one relationship. Wilfred and the old lady both seem to ‘own’ the moose – and then at the very end, another ‘owner’ appears.

Rules are not always effective, even if they seem to be working! Perhaps this is more a message for adults than kids. Wilfred thinks the moose does really well at obeying the rule about ‘Not making too much noise while Wilfred plays his record collection.’ But of course readers know that a moose was never going to make that much noise anyway.

Authoritarianism seldom trumps kindness. When Wilfred tells the moose to ‘Heel’ with confidence and authority, the moose completely ignores him in favour of an apple proffered by the old lady.

Arbitrary rules, made without consultation, will rarely be effective. I love that immediately after naming the moose, Wilfred “began following Marcel, explaining the rules of how to be a good pet.” Surely every parent has experience with the utter futility of metaphorically following a child and explaining rules.

Sometimes we can be happy with the relationship that’s available rather than the one we imagine we want. Wilfred ends up quite happy even though the moose is clearly doing whatever he pleases. We can’t always control other people (and perhaps we shouldn’t seek to) but we can be happy with the relationship we have.

There’s a hint of irony in the telling of this story right from the outset. (That’s pretty much true of all Oliver Jeffers books, don’t you think?) Understanding irony as a comic device is super important for kids—it helps them laugh at the karmic ups and downs of life.

A small reading hint:

The rules that Wilfred makes are set in a handwritten style of font. If you point to those words as you read it will help to distinguish them from the narrative. And if you read them with an authoritative air, their absurdity will be more obvious.

This is a story that will appeal to young children for its comic value—the very idea of lecturing a moose is funny. And then to have not one but two alternative owners show up: hilarious. (For adults, it might prompt a bit of healthy guilt over notions of ownership and rule-setting and enforcing.)

It’s also a really good read-it-before-you-need-it story because at some stage we are all going to have to think about ownership, control, authority and power—and how to exercise those things ethically.

P.S. In case you like to see how the moose was painted, here’s a fun clip with Oliver Jeffers.

Amazon  -  Book Depository

Book Depository has free postage anywhere in the world and great pricing, but Amazon might be cheaper for North American readers.

Names in this book – Wilfred, Marcel, Rodrigo, Dominic