Nutik, The Wolf Pup

by Jean Craighead George, Illustrations by Ted Rand

HarperCollins, January, 2001.
Picture Book, 40 pages.
ISBN: 0060281642
Ages 4-8

Nutik, The Wolf Pup by Jean Craighead George Jean Craighead George is well known as an author of children's books dealing with nature. Almost all children who have reached the sixth grade have read and loved a story written by this acclaimed author. Her books are stories that speak to children about their relationship to the land and the ways of the creatures that inhabit the earth. Children have a special need to relate to animals, both domestic and wild. In a world where most children will have very little contact with any animals, reading can bridge this gap. Nutik, the Wolf Pup will address the very strong emotions of love, caring, and the profound pain of separation that children can feel.

Nutik, the Wolf Pup is the story of a very young Eskimo boy who lives with his family at the top of the world in an Eskimo village. His father, Kapugen, is a great hunter and his sister Julie knows the ways of wolves and entertains him with wolf stories. Julie tells Amaroq how a wolf pack once saved her life and how its leader, also named Amaroq, had shared the pack's food with her. Then one day Julie brings two ill and hungry wolf pups home, and she gives one to Amaroq to raise and nurture. When the pups are well, the wolf pack will come for them, she warns.

Predictably, Amaroq loves his wolf pup just as all boys love their dogs, but Julie warns him that some day the two will have to part to live their own lives. Of course the boy is more interested in the present, and he feeds and plays with his pup who grows stronger each day. All through the arctic summer the boy and the pup play and grow up together. Then one day the call of the wolf pack is heard by both the pup and the boy, but the pup stays with the boy. Julie returns her wolf pup, but Amaroq puts off the inevitable day. In the deepening darkness and approaching cold of August, the wolf pack continues to call. One night Nutik awakens Amaroq and leads him to his parka and then to the door. The time has come. The boy returns Nutik to his family and hurries home in the dark before his tears freeze.

The boy suffers all the heartbreak of separation, a heartbreak with which all children will empathize. Whether it is through divorce, or just the loss of a family pet, separation brings a deep and lasting pain which most children have experienced. They will understand how old activities, whether fishing with father or just eating will lose any importance or comfort. They will also rejoice with Amaroq when one night he finds that the wolf pup has made a choice and is asleep deep in his bearskin sleeping bag. The happy ending is made even more satisfying when Julie calls across the tundra to the wolves that Nutik has joined her family and the wolves call back that they think that it is a good thing.

Ted Rand has researched the arctic during his travels there to work on the illustrations for this book. He easily shows the spirit of the Eskimo family with its strong love for each other and for the ways of the North. Some of the illustrations are particularly striking, such as his portrait of the leader of the wolf pack, Amaroq, on one page and the charming young namesake with a front tooth missing on the next page. The painting of the deep sorrow of the boy and his pup is touching, as is the figure of the sad child trudging home alone through the snow and the darkness. The colors and style of the paintings portray the many moods of arctic life with great sensitivity.

Stories of deep affection and separation are important to children, because they express feelings that children themselves have difficulty in forming into words. Books about children who are learning the sometimes harsh laws of nature are especially helpful for children as they grow up. Nutik, the Wolf Pup will be cherished by any child fortunate enough to receive it as a gift.

--Sarah Reaves White

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This review was published in the August, 2001 of The Internet Writing Journal.

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