By Marion Dane Bauer
Clarion Books, 1992
Ages 8 to 12
Wolves have fascinated and frightened us throughout history. The howling of a wolf conjures up all the legends and stories we have heard since childhood about these savage and treacherous creatures.
Native Americans, however, have always admired wolves for their intelligence and personality, their hunting prowess and the close family bonds so evident in the wolf pack. While we have done our best to eradicate them in the lower 48 states, luckily, today there is a new appreciation for the complex structure of the wolf pack and its ability to survive in the wild.
In this short novel, Marion Dane Bauer introduces us to a fictional wolf family in Minnesota through the eyes of a little wolf pup trying to find his identity in his pack. When the fifth and last pup is born to King and Silver, the alpha pair of the pack, he is not breathing. When King first sees the tiny pup, the word "Runt!" explodes from him while Silver tries to coax the first breath from her pup's lungs. Silver replies, "He may be Runt for now, but who knows what gift he will bring to the pack."
Poor little Runt! Saddled with the name his father gave him, the pup endures teasing and rejection from most of the other members of the pack, including his litter-mates, Leader, Sniffer, Thinker and Runner. Runt is his own worst enemy, making mistake after mistake while trying to win the love and affection of his father.
There are many life lessons Runt learns the hard way in the story, which can teach children about the importance of believing in yourself, overcoming disappointments, thinking before you act and learning from your mistakes. The ending is touching as Runt finds his place in the pack and finally rids himself of his hated birth name.
The author certainly did her research about wolves. Through the personalities and behavior of her characters, we learn so much about the social structure of the pack and wolf behavior in the wild. Be warned that life is tough in the wilderness and not all the wolves are going to survive the harsh conditions they encounter.
For readers wanting to know more about wolves, a bibliography for both children and adults of fiction and nonfiction books about wolves is appended to the story.
A nominee for the 2005 Young Reader's Choice Awards Junior Division, this little gem is sure to be one of the most popular choices this year. If the adorable photo of a wolf pup on the cover doesn't grab you, be assured that the wonderful and tender story will.
- Molly Hansbrough, librarian, Spencer Butte Middle School