OLD WOLF, by Avi
Ages 8 to 13
A Richard Jackson Book | Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Simon & Schuster, New York
Hunting—the predator, and its prey—is at the heart of this riveting and suspenseful novel from Newbery Medalist Avi with illustrations from Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca.
In the computer game world of Bow Hunter—Casey’s world—there are no deaths, just kills. In the wolf world—Nashoba’s world—there have been no kills. For this is March, the Starving Time in the Iron Mountain region of Colorado, when wolves and ravens alike are desperate for food.
With the help of a raven, the miraculous Merla, Nashoba must lead his pack of eight to a next meal. The wolf hates being dependent on a mere bird, but Merla is a bird wise beyond her years.
And when thirteen-year-old Casey crosses their path, two very different approaches to hunting collide.
A Junior Library Guild selection
The Horn Book Magazine:
As winter wanes in the mountain regions of Colorado, Nashoba, an aging wolf, struggles to find fresh game for his pack, all the while desperately trying to hold on to his alpha status. He knows full well that his true survival depends not on besting an eager challenger but on the next kill, which will produce life-saving food. A shrewd raven named Marla, seeking an unlikely partnership, offers to help Nashoba hunt if he will let her share the leavings. In a parallel story, thirteen year-old Casey also dreams of kills, but those that are from a video game he plays incessantly. These kills are both spectacular and numerous, and his appetite for real-world hunting is whetted when he receives a bow-and-arrow set for his birthday. These two stories—of one struggling with decreased killing power and one full of his own increasing power—come in direct contact as Nashoba, led by Marla, creeps closer and closer to civilization, and Casey, eager to try out his new weapon, ventures farther and farther into the neighboring woods. Avi switches perspective between Nashoba and Casey, building the tension and raising a multitude of questions in this thought-provoking allegory. Should the head of the food chain kill for sport? And, is that killing really sport? Naturalistic black-and-white pencil illustrations by Floca (who also illustrated Avi’s Poppy books) enhance the classic-feeling tale. —Betty Carter
School Library Journal:
Two stories, one animal, one human, set in early spring in the Lodgepole National Forest and environs, converge dramatically in this brief, engaging novel. The opening line "It was the starving time" prefaces the fight between Nashoba, elderly leader of the Iron Mountain wolf pack, and Garby, the young wolf seeking to replace him. Victorious but wounded, Nashoba sets out to find food, reluctantly following the direction of a raven. He heads into the lower Bend Valley, dangerous to wolves because of its human population, and finds a field of elk cows and calves, then returns to persuade the pack to follow him back to this food source. Meanwhile, Casey Seton greets his 13th birthday excited to apply skills from his new archery books and eager to encounter a live wolf reputed to be in the area. His parents' gift is a longbow and arrows, along with soon-to-begin archery lessons to ready him for the fall hunting season. But, left on his own the following day, Casey succumbs to the temptation of trying out his new equipment unsupervised. The narrative's alternating points of view create tension, and the anthropomorphic portrayal of the animals (they think, decide, speak to one another), found in many of Avi's previous books, heighten the drama as wolf and boy come face to face. VERDICT Fast paced and exciting, this accessible novel will appeal to those who enjoy adventure stories. —Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
A modern-day fable intertwines the stories of a young boy and an old wolf. Like all good fables, this one tells its story with minimal characterization and unabashed moral messages. Wolf Nashoba, an aging pack leader, is desperate to find food for his starving band after the long winter, especially since the brash young wolf, Garby, questions his leadership. Meanwhile, Casey, a just-turned-13-year-old human boy who excels at the video hunting game “Bowhunter,” is thrilled when he receives a real bow and arrow for his birthday. Nashoba’s and Casey’s stories collide when Nashoba leads a hunt—helped by wise, acerbic raven Merla—near Casey’s home. Casey, searching for a stray arrow, comes across Merla, who is helping Nashoba, injured during the hunt. On instinct, Casey shoots Merla and then is shocked as he realizes the finality of real-world killing. Although the animals speak to one another in quoted dialogue and exhibit humanlike thought processes, animals and humans do not enjoy mutually intelligible speech. The fable’s messages—touching on false pride, the facile violence of virtual reality, age and youth, the coexistence of species, the value of kindness, and a few others—are inevitably diluted by being so numerous, but happily, they offer gentle provocation for thoughtful readers. Floca’s black-and-white pencil illustrations, with their attentive, appreciative depictions of the natural world, add real depth and poignancy to the story.
Overall, a fine tale that will benefit from being sifted for all its meanings.
Part survival story and part coming-of-age tale, Avi's (Catch You Later, Traitor) novel is told from the alternating points of view of two hunters: Nashoba, an aging wolf, and Casey, a 13-year-old country boy. Despite a leg injury and growing physical weakness, Nashoba is determined to find food for his pack during the "starving time" in early spring. His desperation drives him into dangerous territory, close to where humans reside. Meanwhile, a short distance away, eighth-grader Casey has just received his first archery set and looks forward to the thrill of hunting, which he has only experienced vicariously through computer games. One snowy day Casey ventures out with his bow and arrows in hopes of finding a target. Nashoba, spurred by need, and Casey, seeking adventure, unknowingly inch closer toward each other. The book's short chapters and steadily rising suspense will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. More seasoned readers will appreciate the story's different levels of meaning and subtle themes beyond the central man-versus-nature conflict. Art not seen by PW.
An aging leader of a wolf pack, a raven, and a teenage boy find themselves face-to-face in this combination of survival tale and coming-of-age story. Nashoba must find food for his pack so they can survive the rest of the winter. Merle, the raven, informs Nashoba that a herd of elk is grazing nearby. They should be easy prey, but the grazing land is also close to where the humans live. Hunger trumps fear as Nashoba scouts the elk herd and then makes the discussions to take his pack hunting. At the same time, 13-year old Casey, who lives with his family in this remote part of Colorado, has received a bow for his birthday and now yearns to practice his video-game archery skills in real life. The paths of all three—wolf, raven, and boy—will collide. A young upstart wolf’s attitudes parallel those of impetuous Casey, imparting the message that, sometimes, elders do know better. Featuring detailed pencil drawings by Floca, this is likely to appeal to fans of Gary Paulsen and Will Hobbs. —Teri Lesesne