The wolf wilder by Katherine Rundell
Bloomsbury, 2015. ISBN: 9781408872352.
(Age: 9-13) Highly recommended. Themes: Wolves, Russia, Nineteenth century, Animals, Survival. A totally engrossing adventure story about Feo and her wolves, seeking to survive in the harsh Russian winter while being pursued by those who see wolves as a threat, something to be hunted down and killed.
While a wolf wilder, someone who helps wolves survive in the wild after years of living with humans, may be a fiction, there are many people around the world helping partially domesticated animals return to the wild. Rescue parks exist to return animals to the wild, their natural place rather than be dependent upon humans.
In Russia, the wolf is seen as a sign of strength and power and pups are stolen shortly after birth to be sold for large profits to the idle rich, in whose grand houses the wolves are trained to beg and sit, fed inappropriate food, discarded when they grow too big or become aggressive.
Feo and her mother take these abandoned wolves and show them how to survive in the cold snow covered wilds 1000 miles from St Petersburg, but into their area comes General Rakov, a man obsessed with ridding the woods of these wolves and their benefactors. Feo befriends one of the garrison, a boy her age entranced when he sees a pup born, Ilya, slipping away from his work to help Feo raise the pup.
But one breathless night he comes to warn the women: a cow has been killed and the general is on the rampage, death in his heart.
After seeing her mother bound and taken away by the soldiers, Feo flees, determined to find her and free her.
So she, Ilya, the three wolves and new pup set out on the journey to St Petersburg. They have the most extraordinary of adventures, meeting others, slipping past the soldiers, helping villages with their own survival as the soldiers move against anyone who helps Feo. Staying with others gives her the opportunity to educate them and the readers about wolves, their habits, habitat and lifestyles, and I can assure all readers that they too will come away from this book with a wolf sighting added to their to do list.
Rundell writes with incredible sympathy, engaging the reader in a story so real, you feel the need to brush the snow from your eyelashes, duck beneath the overhanging fir tree boughs and nestle your face in the warm fur of the new pup.
It is the last days of Tsarist Russia, and glimpses of that failed system of government can be seen throughout this amazing story. Teacher's notes are available.