Student Recommendation: The Year the Wolves Came

I mentioned back in April that I was challenging the kids at school to read books with less than appealing covers. One young man, “G”, who is an avid nonfiction reader, unwrapped two books that he described as princess-books. He asked for another chance but I didn’t have any books wrapped. I am fond of G, though, so I handed him an unwrapped book I thought looked very intriguing:

The Year the Wolves Came by Bebe Faas Rice has this for a blurb:

Like an eerie finger beckoning Therese to her destiny, the first wolf flung its mournful howl across the desolate, frozen prairie. Soon the whole pack joined in and, night after night, surrounded the small frontier town. Everyone was frightened, but Therese’s pale, beautiful mother was especially terrified. It was just cabin fever, Papa said, but Mama grew thinner and thinner and even began to walk in her sleep.

When the wolves began to prey upon the villagers’ livestock, a hunting party went out–to no avail. How could the wolves be so elusive? Only Pinky, a hired hand from Russia, suspected the truth–that the wolves were after more than food. They sought their majestic white leader who had been left behind, thirteen years before.

G loved the book, and by chance his Mom came to school to eat lunch with him and we chatted a bit about the book. She was shocked that I got him to read fiction, and that he loved it so much. She admitted to reading a bit of it herself as well.

I just finished it tonight, but today was the last day of school, so I won’t get to tell him until fall that he was 100% right about it being a great book.

I found this story reminded me of an old legend from the deep dark forests of medieval Europe. The story I remember tells of a village is plagued by wolf attacks. The local nobleman brings in an expert hunter who manages to cut off the wolf’s paw. When the hunter goes to present the paw to the nobleman, it has somehow changed into the hand of a woman. I seem to recall that the nobleman recognizes a ring on the hand and rushes off to check on his wife, who has inexplicably suffered an amputation of her hand.

I do not know where I read this story. I thought it was an old ghost story from a short story compilation, but when I searched for a trace of it online, I keep finding this historical account from France. I’m not sure if this is the same legend that inspired Rice in her book, but she must have heard something similar, maybe from Russia, since Russian folklore is used to describe the lycanthropy in the book.

I will be recommending this book to other kids and I might even find a way to denote that G was the one who recommended it to me. A bookplate maybe?

Now for the hard part, finding more books about lycanthropy that aren’t too scary or gruesome for a 3rd grade student.

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