In Russia, wealthy families used to keep young wolves as pets. A wolf in the house was supposed to bring good fortune. But wolves can’t be tamed like dogs and can’t be kept indoors month after month without going a little bit mad. As it grew, there would come a day when the animal might nibble off someone’s fingers or toes or ears.
The family would then have to decide what to do with the wolf. They couldn’t kill it—that would bring bad luck. So the animal was usually packed off to a wolf wilder. Wolf wilders were rugged people who lived at the edge of the wilderness. They would teach the wolf how to hunt, how to howl and how to distrust humans so it could be released into the wild.
Feodora and her mother are two such wolf wilders. Feo learned to howl before she learned to talk, and wolves make sense to her in a way that people don’t. They both have their share of scars, it’s true, but they like their life.
Then a cruel army officer by the name of General Rakov shows up and tells them that they can no longer release wolves into the wild. From now on they must shoot any wolf that is brought to them. Feo and her mother don’t know what to do. There are three wolves that consider Feo as part of their pack. And there’s a new little pup—all black with white paws. They can’t kill these animals.
And they don’t. They keep on wilding the wolves. Until they are caught. This time, General Rakov arrests Feo’s mother and burns their house to the ground. Feo herself is lucky to escape—and it’s only thanks to her new friend Ilya that she does.
Feo, Ilya, and four of the wolves set off to try to rescue Feo’s mother. It’s not an easy journey—and General Rakov is coming after them.
Genre: historical fiction
Anna’s take on it:
The Wolf Wilder was one of my unexpected superstars when I booktalked it in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes last year. I added it to my list at the last minute, never anticipating that a historical fiction set in ~1917 Russia would top the charts all spring.
The cover—with shiny gold writing and the silhouette of a wolf—drew the kids’ attention from the start. A couple of times, when I had my books all set up and was waiting for a second class to arrive, I’d invite students to tell me which books they wanted to read just from looking at the cover. The Wolf Wilder always landed on the list.
Historical fiction, like some fantasy, can require introducing the audience to crucial aspects of the world the book is set in—in this case, the life of a wolf wilder. Even though this booktalk is a little longer than most that I do, kids had no problem staying engaged.
After booktalking the title all spring, I was at one of our branch libraries a few weeks into summer break. A girl at a computer looked up and saw me. “You’re the one who came to our class!” She held up the book she’d just checked out: The Wolf Wilder.