LONGLISTED FOR THE NORTH SOMERSET TEACHERS' BOOK AWARD QUALITY FICTION CATEGORY
Book Title : The Wolf Wilder
Author : Katherine Rundell
Illustrator : Gelrev Ongbico
Publisher : Bloomsbury
ISBN : 9781408862582
Katherine Rundell’s third book ‘The Wolf Wilder’ is an epic tale from start to finish. Set at the beginning of the Russian Revolution, the story follows Feodora and her friends on an adventure to save her mother from the hands of the evil General Rakov.
Katherine was inspired by old Russian Fairy tales of heroines, frozen landscapes and most importantly, wolves. It could be said that ‘The Wolf Wilder’ is a very different take on Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood, where a fearless red-cloaked girl enters the bleak wintry forests of Western Russia; however, the wolves are her companions and not her enemies and her goal is not to get to grandma’s house, but to free her mother from the dark prisons of St. Petersburg.
At the start of the story, Feo and her mother, Marina, live humbly together on the outskirts of a small village where they spend their time rehabilitating wolves into the wild, or ‘wolf wildering’. It is the fashion of the day for rich Russian aristocrats to keep wolves as pets, but as soon as a wolf displayed its true nature, it became necessary to dispose of it. Fearing that the killing of a wolf would bring bad luck, it was instead sent to a wolf wilder and returned to its natural habitat. When one of the wolves Feo and her mother have rehabilitated kills one of the Tsar’s cattle, they are ordered by Rakov to slaughter of all the wolves in their care. They refuse such an outrageous demand and continue their quiet lives caring for the animals they love so deeply.
Unbeknown to them the tyrannical General Rakov makes Feo and her mother his obsession. Marina is captured and imprisoned for disobedience and there follows a courageous game of cat and mouse as Feo battles her way through the icy landscape to rescue her and avoid capture herself. Feo forges many new friendships along her journey, the most important being with a young soldier, Ilya and the youthful revolutionary, Alexi; her greatest support, however, are always her wolf companions.
Battling through ferocious snow storms, encounters with the Russian army, the wilful ignorance of the local village people and even Rakov himself, Feo and her band of loyal followers are undeterred from their goal. They use the rumblings of the growing revolutionary feelings to their advantage and plan a revolt that will provide them with the distraction and muscle power they require to aid Marina’s escape from prison.
As with all good fairy tales, this story ends happily ever after, but not without loss or heartache or the torturous growth of the human spirit as our young heroine realises her courage and strength despite the difficulties she encounters and the pain she faces.
There are so many opportunities for teaching with this beautiful text. Here are just a few ideas…
- Explore Russian history around the time of the Russian revolution in 1917.
- Research Russian fairy tales, particularly tales with wolves.
- Look at animal rehabilitation - Lions, Primates etc occurring today in various parts of the world and arrange a fundraising activity to sponsor an animal being ‘wilded’.
- Character profiles of Feo, Ilya, Alexi and Rakov.
- Research wolves - their habitats, food, behaviour etc.
- Listen to Russian music and explore Russian dance.
- The setting of the story is winter in the forests of Russia. Readers could create poems about the icy landscape.
- Feo prepares as bag with emergency items. What items would readers include in their own emergency packs?
- Feo describes snow . How might readers add their own interpretations and experiences to this description?
- Explore the characteristic of courage. How we can face our fears and not to be held back by them? Follow your heart in the same way Feo did, persevering despite challenges and stand up for what is right.
- At the end of the story, Feo gives an epic revolutionary, motivational speech. How would readers persuade the people of St. Petersburg to join them in the battle for freedom?