Brian Flocka, Illustator
Atheneum, 2015 144 pgs
Our story takes place on Casey's thirteenth birthday and the day after on a late winter/early spring day in a rural American community. Casey's favorite thing to do is play his hunting video game. He is so good at it, he can't wait until he can try his hand at the real thing. Imagine his delight when he is presented with a real hunting bow at his birthday dinner. The newly minted teen can't wait to try it out. Meanwhile, alternating chapters tell the story of Nashoba, who's wolf pack is starving. As the alpha it is up to Nashoba to lead the pack in a hunt, but the pickings are slim. The great wolf is aging and is no longer the fierce predator he once was. After his leadership in the pack is barely defended Nashoba takes advice from a raven named Merla and commands a badly executed attack on a group of elk, where he becomes seriously injured and left for dead by his pack. The two stories converge as Casey ventures into the woods with his new bow, confident that he will handle it like a pro. Tragedy strikes, leaving Casey more mature and wise about the responsibility of hunting and the old wolf Nashoba more alone than ever.
You can read twenty books by Avi (he has written over seventy) and not guess that they were written by the same author. This eclectic writer has taken on many different topics, genres, time periods and intended ages of readership. The common thread of all his books is the excellent writing quality and the ability to capture a story to which young people will relate. Old Wolf is a simple straight forward tale, although it is told by two points of view. Even with the duel narrators, it is never confusing who is talking; Casey or Nashoba. Avi seems to get into the head of a wolf and it seems realistic that he can communicate with his pack mates, as well as with his new friend Merla. Themes such as hunting responsibly, the evils of video games, loyalty, and inter-species friendship are explored. Wolf pack life is vividly captured and Avi's love and respect of these majestic creatures comes through. This is the second fictionalized story I read about wolves in the wild published last year and, interestingly enough, they both feature the wolves befriending a bird. This book reads quickly. Short chapters, wide margins, and large print will entice reluctant readers, as will the stunning illustrations by Caldecott winning artist Brian Floca. Learn more about these endangered and misunderstood symbols of wild America and be entertained in the process.