The story opens with the birth of a wolf pup named Swift into a large wolf pack. Swift named because he was the first to stand and walk, has a brother named Sharp who is bigger and a brother named Warm who is smaller, as well as sisters named Pounce and Wag. Although Swift is eager to go into the world outside the den, he is warned not to do so by Mother. Eventually at night, Mother orders the young wolf pups out of the den and into the world.
In the world Swift meets other members of the pack, Song the hunger, pup-watcher Growl and Father who gives him a lump of predigested meat. Swift learns this is elk meat, the "life of the pack".
During the summer, the pack hunts and Swift and his brothers and sisters enjoy the elk meat. Despite his best efforts, Swift can never quite get his larger brother Sharp to drop his tail to him. Swift eats more and runs faster but Sharp is stronger and larger. But Swift sits with Father watching him watch the mountainside that is their home. Swift learns not to hunt skunks, eat mushrooms or white berries nor badgers, wolverines or porcupines. He learns about the ravens and how they work with the wolves, about how men kill wolves and works on his hunting skills.
As summer turns to fall, Father notes there are many more wolves in their area. So he and Mother go off to mark out their territory to warn the stranger-wolves away. During an elk hunt, Father teaches Swift how to run the elk to uncover the weakest one but it is Sharp who helps make the kill and who feeds after Father and Mother. This leaves Swift only more determined to beat his bigger brother. During the winter Father chooses Swift to run the herd while Sharp helps him make the kill.
No longer a yearling, Swift watches as the season changes and Mother has another batch of pups. On the first full moon of summer while the pups are feeding, an enemy pack of silver wolves attack Swift's smaller pack. While Mother escapes up the mountain with the pups, Father is surrounded by the other wolves and attacked. When Swift sees another wolf attempting to follow Mother up the mountain, he gets the wolf's attention by pretending to be a weaker wolf and then leads him on a chase. This wolf dies during the chase, but Swift determined to save his pack, leads several more on chases. However, Swift hears his father's death cry. Although he wants to howl to his pack to learn if any survived he can't because this might reveal them to the attacking pack. Later that night the pale wolves howl. Swift hears Sharp's low howl and knows that he is now their following wolf and that none of his pack remain. So Swift begins a journey that will take him hundreds of miles from his home territory and a new chance at life. Along the way there will be many lessons to learn, new animals to discover and many skills to develop.
|Remote camera photo of OR7 taken in 2014|
Swift's story is told from his point of view, in a decidedly "wolf" voice. This makes the narrative that much more interesting and the lovely pencil illustrations by Monica Armino are a refreshing throwback to classic juvenile fiction novels from the 1950's and 1960's. They enhance Swift's story in a very real way.
Ultimately, Swift's story is one of brute survival, as he travels through new landscapes and must deal with a serious wound, lack of food, water and the loneliness of life without a pack. Early on the reader sees Swift's incredible will to survive after he is injured attempting to take down an elk. Unable to to walk and with vulture flying overhead, Swift determination to live is strong. "All creatures eat and all are eaten in the end, but I am not ready to be eaten, not today. I want my pack, my own pack. I want to run, to hunt, to live."
Parry incorporates many interesting facts about wolves into her story. For example, when Swift first leaves his decimated pack he has help from a raven. Ravens and wolves can have a symbiotic relationship, with the raven helping a wolf find food. But Swift, a young wolf without much experience doesn't understand why the raven has been following him. Father knew how to talk to the ravens, but he does not. However, when the raven picks up a bone and continues to drop it in front of Swift he comes to understand that the raven knows how to find food, but needs help from Swift. "Ravens do things for a reason. She is talking to me. She must know where to find meat. For all their savvy, ravens have the wrong beak for opening a hide. They need someone with teeth to get at the meat."
A Wolf Called Wander is an engaging novel that draws readers into the natural world, teaching them about wolves, and helping them to understand the importance of an apex predator like the wolf in the forest ecosystem. It also offers young readers the opportunity to consider the impact of man wolves over the last century. This well written novel will appeal to animal lovers of all ages. It's a book with a refreshingly different theme from the many the fantasy novels written for younger readers.
Parry has included a section titled, "The Real Wolf Behind The Story" which tells about OR7 and includes photographs and a map of OR7's journey through Oregon, into California and back into Oregon. There is also a section titled "About Wolves" which provides readers with information about some of their special characteristics as well as wolf tracks, wolf packs, wolf behaviour, the various habitats that Swift and his real-life counterpart, OR7 encountered on their journeys. Parry has also listed Resources for Young Readers which offers documentaries, books and websites to check out, as well as some General Resources.
OR7 image credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife https://www.flickr.com/photos/odfw/16674012963/in/album-72157623481759903/
A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry
New York: Greenwillow Books 2019