Review: Wild by Emily Hughes
By Emily Hughes
Flying Eye Books
When I was a kid, we had a cat for a week. Things did not end well. He was a gift from my great aunt, who said he was half bobcat on account of his short, stubby tail. He tore our house up. Every time we turned around he was clawing a couch, climbing a lightpole, or generally being an untamed animal. The week ended in the worst of ways – let’s just say that Trooper, the dog from three doors down, was involved. Whether or not the bobcat thing was true, it was obvious that we had a cat that couldn’t be tamed. Really, what were we doing trying to turn a barn cat into a house pet? Can something wild be domesticated? Should it? Uncompromising and engaging, Wild is a book that ponders these questions. This debut won’t draw love from every reader, but for my money it’s the one of the most brilliant picture books of 2013.
No one remembered how she came to the woods,
but all knew it was right.
Raised by bears, birds, and foxes, the girl is content in her forest home. Everything changes when the girl is caught in a hunter’s trap, brought to civilization, and placed under the guardianship of a psychiatrist and his wife. The girl’s world is turned upside-down. Eventually, enough is enough. She returns to the only home that makes sense.
What is a happy ending? How does a destroyed house and a thoroughly unchanged main character sound? Because that’s how things conclude here. The girl proclaims her true nature on the way out the door, leaving a path of chaos in her wake. In a way, it’s the most Sendak-ian book I’ve read in ages. I can picture Maurice giving the thumbs up to the idea of a feral child who proves untamable and eventually returns to her natural habitat. Here the child doesn’t learn the lesson – the adults do. That’s a bold move that you almost never see in children’s literature. It’s also something that might turn off grown-ups.
Read this excerpt: “And she understood, and was happy” – remind you of anything? My mind immediately went to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. While that book’s theme of selfless love is much different than the questions presented in Wild, both share a simple and straightforward text that draw in readers.
The artwork is lush and expressive, full of intricate pencil work awash in earth tones. In the forest scenes, every square inch is alive with flora and fauna of every shape and size.
Wild could work in a number of roles: straight up read-aloud, discussion starter, compare-and-contrast companion to Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a book that is impossible to ignore.
Review copy from the publisher.
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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