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Family Book Club: Julie of the Wolves

or, "Pin the Wolf on the Caribou"

{Originally written May 2020}

White wolves howling on top of a hill.

Given the success of The Call of the Wild, I give Forced Family Book Club another go this month, with Julie of the Wolves.

Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George, received the Newbery Medal in 1973. It chronicles the experiences of a 13-year-old Inuk who runs away from a bad marriage and finds herself lost on the Alaskan tundra. She survives only by learning to communicate with a wolf pack, who becomes her family for a time.

Forced Family Book Club gets started a little late this month. I was aiming for 7:00 (the hour all book clubs are mandated to begin, I believe?) but dinner is running a bit late. At 6:30, I’m still getting dinner on the table and haven’t even finished our thematic food yet.

My youngest, 9, threatens to begin book club without me. He jumps into the living room, as if through the Book Club Portal, and says, “I didn’t like the ending.”

“Hey!” I protest from the kitchen island (not part of the Book Club Portal). “You can’t start book club without the hostess!” It works.

After dinner, I finish the thematic food and officially call them to the living room. Since the only food eaten in Julie of the Wolves is caribou and rabbit, and maybe a few lemmings, I decide to make dessert again: mini white cupcakes to represent the snow of the Alaskan tundra.

Although, I’m beginning to wonder if serving the boys a load of sugar just before expecting them to have a civilized dialogue might be backfiring on me?

Because once again, there is an extended reenactment on the floor of the living room, this time of a hunter and its prey. The youngest throws himself on top of the middle. Maybe next time I’ll go for a salty snack, and see if fewer people end up on the floor.

“Can we play Pin the Wolves on the Caribou?” asks the youngest.

This was the boys’ brilliant idea for a party game at book club. It was the middle's idea, but the youngest took to it. “You only win if you pin the wolves at the caribou’s throat,” he suggested. “Then we can have blood.” However, no one had taken the time to make the board.

“Nobody made a board, so we can’t play tonight,” I say. “But how about the book?” I say, trying to bring some order. “No one liked the ending?”

We have an extensive discussion on the ending: what exactly happened, what that vague last line meant, and how we felt about it. Also, we discuss the major themes and the characters.

There a few details that need to be clarified for some of our readers. For example, the youngest is convinced that lemmings are an insect. “They’re like grasshoppers!” he insists.

“No, they’re like mice!” the oldest, 14, tells him.

“What?!” The youngest is shocked. I’m thinking that maybe next time I insist they look up pictures of any animals they’re unfamiliar with.

As we wind down, I’m considering suggesting reading another of Jean Craighead George’s books for our next selection, so I gauge interest. “Did you like the writing?” I ask.

The youngest says, “I liked the font size. It was perfect.”

The oldest complains. “There was all this weird white space,” [there were illustrations messing up the e-book layout] “and things that looked like hyperlinks but weren’t!”

I try to get them back on track. “I mean the writing. Did you find it compelling? Could you picture things?”

The middle son says, “I could picture the things in the pictures.”

If they're trying to wear down my enthusiasm about this whole book club thing, they just might be succeeding.

For our next selection, we contemplate My Side of the Mountain and Island of the Blue Dolphins, yet more tales of a child left to fend for themselves in the wild. (Why so many stories like this?) The only problem? Survival stories make for great reading, but terrible thematic food options. And they seem to encourage primal behavior in young boys when they should be contributing to a civilized book club discussion. But at least it keeps things interesting.


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