This is a classic kid’s book. We’ve got the second book in the series on the shelf, which I kept wanting to read. Better read the first in the series before the second. It was a nice change of pace from our last read aloud, The Last Unicorn.
Genre: middle grade survival fiction
Length: 170 pages
Setting: northern Alaska, 1960s
Summary: Julie/Miyax (her Inuit name) has gotten herself lost in the tundra as she was trying to walk to Point Hope from Barrow. After she was sent to live with her aunt to go to school, her father went out in his kayak and never came back. Life with her aunt became intolerable, so she married a family friend at age 13. Things were fine until her mentally handicapped husband was teased into asking for his marital rights. Julie decided then to run away to San Fransisco, where her pen pal lives. She just need to walk to the boat in Point Hope. Unfortunately, she got lost. Fortunately, she found a pack of wolves and washes them to learn their language and be accepted by the pack. As summer turns to winter, she gets her bearings and becomes self-sufficient in the tundra. She almost decides to stay in the wilderness, living purely by traditional Inuit patterns of life. Ultimately, she turns back to her father when she discovers he’s alive.
Final thoughts: We definitely enjoyed this book. Julie was matter-of-fact about her chances of survival and was always working on a plan to improve her situation. Things didn’t always go her way, but she never despaired. In this book, I never wondered “where are the adults” or thought she could never do what was being described at her age. It all seemed very believable. She did have the patience to watch the animals and learn how to survive from them. The wolf pack saved her, but only because she was observant enough to learn their language and speak as a pup who needed help. It certainly revived my dreams of being able to speak to animals. In this case, it even happened without magic!
There is a bit about Inuit culture and how it was changing in the middle of the story. It was interesting to see the differences and similarities between their culture and ours. Once again, you can see the importance of the English language being forced on other cultures without a lot of respect for the traditional cultures.
By the end of the story, Julie had pretty much decided she could live by herself in the wilderness. I’m not sure I could be happy by myself like that. I don’t like a lot of people around, but I do miss my family when they are away. Of course, Julie thought she didn’t have any family left. Finding out her father was alive and close by changed all of her plans. She would live with him in the old ways! Too bad he didn’t keep to the old ways like she remembered. The book is all set for the happy ending and family reunion, when we get a slap-in-your-face about turn of reality that is never like your dreams. The kids and I were very surprised with her choice at the very end.
The book worked great as a read aloud. There are only three chapters to the book, but there are frequent breaks in the text, which makes it easy to stop and pick it up the next day. There’s not a lot of action, but there is tension as Julie tries to survive out in the wilderness with no people around, and it isn’t even the Hour of the Lemming (which are so easy to catch). The amazing bit is when you realize how cold the environment is by the end, and Julie’s just walking around like it’s nothing.
Title comes from: Julie was kept alive by a pack of wolves in the tundra.
Awards won: Newbery Award in 1973
Reading challenges fulfilled: #96 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge
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