From predator to free spirit

20th November 1998 at 00:00
WHITE WOLF. By Henrietta Branford Walker Pounds 9.99.

The rehabilitation of the wolf has deprived writers of children's literature of a potent, and very convenient, incarnation of fear - the slavering nightmare predator that stalked the Grimm forests of the imagination. Today's children are being told the truth about the character of this beautiful, reserved animal, and writers are having to work harder to make the wolf interesting.

Henrietta Branford's last novel, Fire, Bed and Bone, which appeared on the Carne-gie Medal shortlist earlier this year, was written in the voice of a dog. This time she gets inside the skin of a young white wolf and tells, from his perspective, the story of his progress from captivity to freedom in the wilderness of western Canada some time in the last century. The wolf has to break free of the burden of human expectations of him before he rediscovers his wild nature and can start a pack of his own.

To the white boy Jesse and his father Jim, the white wolf is a beautiful pet; to the Indian tribe who capture him he is a spiritual messenger who must be sacrificed to save the tribe. He just wants to be a wolf.

The text is rich in sensuous evocations of forest life, particularly smells. The story should help children appreciate that wild animals have an existence independent of human preconceptions.

One sore point, though. This book is an illustrator's dream. So why aren't there any illustrations?

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