Wolves fascinate me. I’ve heard their haunting cries stretching over the still water of a lake in summer, or filtering through quiet winter woods. I’ve come across the remnants of their lunch on remote cross-country ski trails and once saw a small pack crossing Lake Superior’s ice at dusk. Even from the warmth and safety of a cabin, the midnight howling of a wolf pack sends shivers up my spine. They unsettle me in ways that are both chilling and thrilling and have become synonymous with the Northwestern Ontario wilderness I love so much. It’s no wonder wolves have wandered into my stories. When the children in Skating Wild on an Inland Sea hear the howling wind, they question whether the sound is actually the call of wolves. Wind, wolves or the songs of frozen Lake Superior itself, sometimes we need to answer the call of the wild.
While we know how they’re portrayed in classic stories like Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, wolves are often misrepresented and misunderstood in literature and, more broadly, in nature. Here are a few books for kids that shine a different light on these beautiful animals and help us understand a little bit more about ourselves and the natural world we live in, or simply entertain us.
Bringing Back the Wolves, written by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Kim Smith
In the late 1800s, the American government offered a bounty to encourage people to kill wolves in an effort to tame the west and support cattle ranchers. What they didn’t realize was that removing a major predator affects an entire ecosystem. In 1995, the grey wolf was reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. The reappearance of this apex predator had a cascade effect on the landscape and all the animals that lived there, bringing the ecosystem back into balance. Bringing Back the Wolves gives a stunning example of the complexity and interconnectedness of our natural world. And it was the wolves that made it happen. (So much for the big BAD wolf…!)
The Wolf Birds, by Willow Dawson
I’ve been fascinated by the relationship between ravens, wolves and moose. Sometimes referred to as another collection of “three sisters”, these animals form a symbiotic relationship where ravens, able to fly above the trees and spot weak or injured animals below, direct wolf packs to prey. Because ravens cannot hunt or open a carcass on their own, they rely on wolves to bring down the animal and begin the feast. Building on the importance of predators in an environment, this is a beautifully illustrated lyrical story about the wolf-birds we call ravens.
The Big Bad Wolf in My House, by Valerie Fontaine, Illustrated by Nathalie Dion
Sometimes, a wolf trope provides children with a way to access and articulate things that may be difficult to acknowledge or talk about. This is the case with this sensitively drawn story about domestic violence. The wolf is unpredictable and frightening and certainly isn’t welcome in the child’s life. What makes it more complicated is that the wolf was invited into their home. A difficult but important topic to address in a book for young children, but it ends on a hopeful note.
The Wolf Suit, by Sid Sharp
Often our biggest fears, like getting eaten by a wolf, get in the way of our day-to-day lives, like restocking the blackberry supply. Author and illustrator Sid Sharp turns the idiom “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” on its head when his protagonist, the sheepish Bellwether Riggwelter, fashions a wolf suit that allows him to venture bravely out into the wild. But Bellwether is in for a surprise when he meets up with a wolf pack while out picking berries. This graphic novel is a humorous metaphor exploring how we cover up our anxieties by pretending to be someone or something else.
Wolf Island, by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read
In a series of exceptional photographs, Ian McAllister chronicles the story of a lone wolf making his home on an island off the west coast of British Columbia. This picture book focuses on the story of one specific wolf from a broader observation of a unique and genetically distinct species of wolf that lives on Vancouver Island. McAllister and Read’s 2010 middle grade nonfiction book The Sea Wolves: Living Wild in the Great Bear Rainforest takes a comprehensive look at coastal wolves that can swim like otters and fish like bears. Who knew wolves could fish?
Sky Wolf’s Call, by Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger
Stories are a way to hold knowledge and this collection of Indigenous teachings is rooted in one such story from author Eldon Yellowhorn’s Piikani heritage. When the world created by the kindly cultural hero Naapi fell into disarray in his absence, a pack of wolves came down from the Sky Country to share their gift of knowledge and teach people how to live on earth. Drawing on the wisdom of Elders, traditional stories and profiles of present-day Knowledge Keepers, Sky Wolf’s Call introduces a body of Indigenous knowledge rooted in the interconnectedness of all living beings.
The Girl and the Wolf, by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Julie Flett
The wolf still smiles with big white teeth. The little girl is still dressed in red and lost in the woods. But Katherena Vermette puts an Indigenous twist on the classic Red Riding Hood tale and instead imbues the wolf with the ability to direct the child to seek her own inner wisdom and strength to find her way home. Inspired by, but not a traditional story, Julie Flett’s illustration perfectly pair with the text.
The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
The winning team of Barnett and Canadian author/illustrator Klassen (who appropriately gave the mouse a hockey stick to use as a defensive weapon) have just the right touch of irreverent humour in this story about being devoured whole by a wolf and then setting up house in his belly. It only makes sense – there’s no need to fear being eaten by a wolf if you’re living inside one, right? And now we know why the wolf howls at the moon… “Oh woe! Oh woe!”
Virginia Wolf, by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault
I love how picture books can tackle the toughest of topics for the youngest of readers and do it so gorgeously. When Virginia is feeling a little wolfish, it takes the compassion and understanding of her sister Vanessa to help her through the tough times. Loosely based on the relationship between author Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, Virginia Wolf is an uplifting story for readers of all ages.
Wild Pond Hockey, by Jeffrey C. Domm
Who can really say where, when or how the first hockey game was played? This imagining involves two ravens, a frozen pond and a pack of curious wolves. A playful story with detailed renderings of all the animals involved. And who knows, maybe it WAS wolves that played the first hockey game…
Let’s go! Experience the magic of skating on wild ice.
Two children wake up to hear the lake singing, then the wind begins wailing … or is it a wolf? They bundle up and venture out into the cold, carrying their skates. On the snow-covered shore, they spot tracks made by fox, deer, hare, mink, otter … and the wolf! In the bay, the ice is thick and smooth. They lace up their skates, step onto the ice, stroking and gliding, and the great lake sings again.
In her signature poetic style, Jean E. Pendziwol describes the exhilarating experience of skating on the wild ice of Lake Superior, including the haunting singing that occurs as the ice expands and contracts. Accompanied by Todd Stewart’s breathtaking illustrations, this book will make us all long to skate wild!
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