The Wolves of Currumpaw - William Grill
If you've ever wondered where the idea of a wolf as a cunning and wily creature came from, then read this book and the story of 'Lobo' and wonder at the real-life events that surrounded this 'King' of a pack of wolves, and the hunt to capture him and end his reign of terror over the Currumpaw valley.
I already a fan of William Grill - his 'Shackleton's Journey' is a classroom favourite of mine, and this is sure to join it, with similar, beautiful, coloured-pencil sketches and drawings of the creatures, characters and country of the story's settings. These drawings are a mixture of incredible double page filled landscapes, and smaller detailed sketches also filling the page (I particularly like the use of this technique to show us all of the characters in the story, and the equipment being taken on a journey by the hunter), along with other smaller, focused sketches for effect. These simple but beautiful images really make the book a joy to read - I particularly liked the repeated image of both the wolf and then later, Seton, the hunter, standing at simlar vantage points overlooking the valley as their stories come together.
The wolf (Lobo, the King of Currumpaw) in this story has achieved legendary status amongst the farmers of the valley, and in the first chapters of the book we see many failed attempts to entrap him ending in ridicule and embarrassed retreat - the hunters outsmarted by Lobo's cunning. Enter then the real-life character of British naturalist, Ernest Thompson Seton, who uses his expertise of hunting and previous experience with wolves in Canada, to enter the fray, sick of his life in the city and looking for an excuse to get away from it. What follows is a game of cat and mouse (or 'wolf and hunter'?) with Lobo continually able to avoid entrapment and the more and more sophisticated methods employed to catch him.
Seton finally does catch Lobo (no spoilers here about the method used), but we are left feeling sad about this, as indeed is Seton - the wolf stops being a character of exaggerated evil, and becomes just a magnificent specimen of predator, a 'grand old wolf with battle scars'. The hunt successful, Seton's journey to Lobo's capture leads him to have learnt and seen the true nature of these wolves along the way, and the final chapter of the book is dedicated to Seton as 'A Changed Man' who dedicated the rest of his life to protecting the wolf species and conservation issues around American wildlife.
Similarly to 'Shackleton's Journey' there are also historical notes and details, both throughout the book and in addition to the story at the end. This is a truly beautiful book- both in story and in itself and it's presentation (as usual for these large hardbacks produced by Flying Eye Books). The message of change in Seton, realising that his behaviour and feelings about wolves were wrong, will be an interesting talking point when I use this in class, and this would be a good book to use alongside 'Victor' by Jacques and Lise, which features another hunter who changes his way of thinking after close encounters with the creatures he seeks, hunts and kills.
Many thanks to Flying Eye Books for the review copy of this book. They can be followed on Twitter as @FlyingEyeBooks, and their website is https://flyingeyebooks.com/
William Grill is on Twitter as @williamgrill and his website is https://williamgrill.co.uk/
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) September 2020