Book Review: Wolf Girls

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Other Jane Yolen Books Reviewed on This Site

My Brothers' Flying Machine
Roanoke, the Lost Colony
The Salem Witch Trials
Girl in a Cage

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Were they really wolf girls? Were two girls, ages 2 and 8, really raised by wolves? Jane Yolen, award-winning author of Owl Moon, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? and other great books, turns her attention to this historical mystery.

This is a true story, sort of.

It seems that two girls were brought to an orphanage in India in 1920. The girls couldn't speak. They ran around on all fours, and they liked to gnaw on bones and eat raw meat. The person who brought the girls to the orphanage said he found the girls in a wolf den.

Helped along by her daughter Heidi, Yolen tells the facts as they are known to be, then gives the reader several established theories of explaining the girls' strange appearance and behavior.

Because this is a true story, there is no happy ending. The girls really did die, one not long after being found and one several years later. The man who cared for them at the orphanage really did try to tell their story and ended up seeming to invent a story to match the facts.

This is where it gets complicated. We have only the man's journal as evidence that the girls were found in a wolf den. Some people who saw the girls said they acted like animals, but that's not really proof that the girls were raised by wolves.

Did the man make it all up? Were the girls really raised by wolves? Did they not speak because they had mental or physical problems? Or were they just abandoned by their family and raised by a kind man?

These are the four theories the book ends with, and they are set out for you to examine, complete with questions that ask you to go back to the story to find the answers. This is a great way of reinforcing ideas in the story, and it's also a fantastic way to focus on what you know versus what you think you know.

I really like the way the book is laid out. You can see from looking at the illustration above that the story itself can be found in large yellow boxes on the pages. On what looks to be notebook paper are facts about the characters and other elements of the story. And on what looks to be sticky notes are definitions of words you might not know.

The whole effect reinforces the idea that you are a detective trying to solve a mystery. It works very well.

Like The Mary Celeste, another historical mystery written by the same authors (about a ship whose crew vanishes), this book gives you just enough information to form an opinion of how to solve the mystery, whether by proving one of the given theories or by creating one of your own.

As active participation books go, I rate this one very highly. The excellent story-telling, perfect drawings, and highly imaginative and helpful presentation make this a great book for detectives of all ages. (And if you don't want to solve the mystery, you can still look at the cool pictures of the baby girls and the wolves.) 

Graphics courtesy of ArtToday,
except for page from book,
courtesy of Simon & Schuster

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