Book Review: The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Synopsis:

Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl. Her name was Feodora. This is her story…

Feo and her mother live in the isolated, barren, snowy woods of Russia. Feo is a wolf wilder – a calling that involves teaching tame wolves (no longer needed for entertainment by the shallow, dreadful, rich members of the upper class) how they can life again in the wild.

Feo loves her quiet, fulfilling existence, but the world outside is cruel and dangerous. The Russian army are laying waste to the surrounding areas, spreading corruption, greed and fear throughout the land.

One day, the Tsar’s menacing general, Rakov, decrees that all wolves are savage and dangerous. They must be killed. When Feo’s mother refuses to do so and fights back, she is locked away in St Petersburg. Feo must now confront her fears in order to fight the insane politicians that govern her land.  Brave Feo heads straight for St Petersburg, across the frozen plains, to restore peace and save her mother. Along the way, she is joined by Ilya, a timid but brave ballet dancer, a throng of enraged, plucky children, and her majestic, powerful wolves. The story culminates in a thrilling battle between good and evil, where Feo must use all her cunning, passion and courage to defeat her enemies. Can one girl really start a revolution?

Themes: 

Family, good vs evil, revolution, bravery, corruption, fantasy, nature, love, freedom, difference, diversity.

Why you should read it:

wolf wilder 4This is a striking, remarkable, magical book that is richly detailed and atmospheric and also beautifully written. Indeed, the prose is lyrical, intelligent and wise and I was immediately swept along on the perilous adventure, my heart racing as Feo journeys across Russia, wishing I had a family of wolves by my side. Feo is a wonderful creation – plucky, fierce, brave, passionate – and she reminded me of Philip Pullman’s trailblazing heroine, Lyra Belacqua, from my favourite trilogy, ‘His Dark Materials’.

katherine rundell 6
‘His Dark Materials’ Trilogy by Philip Pullman

I was equally drawn to Ilya, a soldier who soon realises that he does not belong in the army and is fighting on the wrong side. His shy and quiet nature is beguiling. The scene in the story, in which he finally shakes off the confines of society and his own insecurities, and allows himself to dance freely around a roaring fire is, quite simply, breath-taking. As a gay man, whilst I find myself wishing I had discovered characters like Ilya when I was younger, I am also moved that he exists at all, in all his human complexity. I have written in more depth about this here. 

Indeed, I was honoured to talk to Katherine Rundell back in October 2017 about Ilya via Twitter. I asked Katherine who or what had inspired him. She had this to say: “I knew a boy like him – shy & tough & kind. & I wanted a boy who’s gay, but for whom that isn’t the only thing that matters…”

k-rundell
“I knew a boy like him – shy & tough & kind. & I wanted a boy who’s gay, but for whom that isn’t the only thing that matters…”

The fully-rounded characters certainly sparkle and leap off the page throughout. The unsettling, frightening, stark landscape only serves to heighten the tension throughout the story and add to their remarkable bravery and sacrifices.

This is a thrilling, emotional and utterly enthralling story (perhaps my favourite in recent years) and is the perfect read for children aged 9-11.

Cross-curricular links: 

Science (animals and their habitats, adaptation, solids/liquids/gases), History (the Russian Revolution), Geography (locating Russia on a map, research into Russian culture, food, art, climate), English (poems about snow and frost, newspaper articles about the battle in St. Petersburg, non-fiction reports on wolves), Art (The She-Wolf (1943) by Jackson Pollock), P.E (dance).

You can also watch three interviews with Katherine Rundell, talking about ‘The Wolf Wilder’ here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is4x3KpGn24

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TWB5eO_vNg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ky9xiWzTZE

Perfect for: Children aged 9-11+

Published by: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

You can find an in-depth discussion guide for this book on The Literacy Shed Plus here!

Other books by Katherine Rundell: 

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Please do leave a comment if you have used this book in your own classroom and how you used it!

Buy here!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Another science link: I used the part where Feo makes a compass in a Y3 science lesson about magnets. We made our own compasses, just in case we ever found ourselves lost in snowy wilds of Russia

    Like

    1. Ian Eagleton says:

      🌟 What a brilliant idea! Thank you for sharing! 🌟

      Like

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