A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry
Illustrated by: Mónica Armiño
Genre: Animal Stories, Adventure, Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 2
(Content warning: Shooting of animals)
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Swift, a young wolf cub, lives with his pack in the mountains learning to hunt, competing with his brothers and sisters for hierarchy, and watching over a new litter of cubs. Then a rival pack attacks, and Swift and his family scatter.
Alone and scared, Swift must flee and find a new home. His journey takes him a remarkable one thousand miles across the Pacific Northwest. The trip is full of peril, and Swift encounters forest fires, hunters, highways, and hunger before he finds his new home.
This absolutely beautiful book is the modern update of wildlife survival tales like Call of the Wild or White Fang. Add in stunning illustrations and a touch of non-fiction at the end, and kids are going to be eating this book up.
The voice of Swift, the wolf protagonist, is compelling and unique. Parry did a great job of making Swift sound alien and other while keeping enough similar vocabulary for kids to comprehend. She didn’t soften the difficulties of living as a wild carnivore, and there’s plenty of hunting and blood and guts to appeal to young fans of Shark Week. However, none of that is written in enough detail to be upsetting or sickening. Though vegans may feel otherwise. I loved how Swift sees the world so differently than us, often hearing and smelling more than seeing, but we all want the same thing: love and family.
Parry’s descriptions were so lush and gorgeous. Highly recommend this book, even just excerpts, for teachers during units on imagery, descriptive language, or figurative language. It’s so lovely, and really paints a picture of living in the mountain forest.
In children’s literature right now not enough attention is being paid to the illustrators, but Mónica Armiño deserves ALL OF THE PRAISE because this book is jaw-dropping. From the cover art, to the full-page illustrations, even down to small corner illustrations, the art in this book really helps to bring the characters and the plot to life. These illustrations are especially important working in partnership with Swift’s non-human voice as they provide much needed scaffolding in places where Swift’s language is difficult to translate. (For example, helping identify the “almost-wolf” as a dog.)
The narrative is great. It moves quickly, and even when Swift is recovering from injuries for multiple days doesn’t get bogged down or boring. Something is always happening. While this isn’t an Old-Yeller situation like many animals, there is a Bambi moment early in the novel. So it may be worthwhile to prepare extra-sensitive kids.
One of my absolute favorite things about this book was the non-fiction companion at the end. I consider myself *pretty* knowledgeable about animals, but I definitely learned something new! Plus there were some great photos to help bring the wolves to life. We know that many kids prefer either fiction or non-fiction, and I think this book could act as a great bridge for helping kids to bridge that preference gap. I might encourage a kid who prefers non-fiction to start there and THEN jump in to the narrative, but for a kid who prefers fiction to start at the beginning and read as-is.
For bonus social-studies connections, there’s a really cool map at the end too!
I loved this book and I think kids will too. It will appeal to a wide variety of kids, whether they like survival stories or animals. It’s going to grab their attention and keep it. Highly recommend.