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What’s this book about?
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.
Story Behind the Story
My two sons Jack and Robert, though four years apart in age, were inseparable. So when Robert started high school, we thought Jack would need a new, close friend. We found an Alaskan Malamute puppy for him. The sole male in a litter of six, we drove home with the tiny dog on Jack’s lap, while debating the right name for the dog. Jack informed us that Malamutes were traditionally named after some place in Alaskan geography. Thus the dog came to be named McKinley—after Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in the United States. And indeed, McKinley grew into a very large animal.
Awards and Recognition
- Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year Selection
- Green Earth Book Award Shortlist
- Kansas State Reading Circle Intermediate Selection
- Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List
- Parents’ Choice Silver Honor 2015
- Wisconsin State Reading Association’s Reading List
“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. Overall, a fine tale that will benefit from being sifted for all its meanings.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“A stirring performance by Kirby Heyborne complements this thought-provoking exploration of nature’s complexity. Heyborne richly captures the various roles and voices of grey wolf pack members. Through a deep-toned, slow-paced narration, he conveys the age and wisdom of Nashoba, the old wolf who finds his role as pack leader challenged by Garby, a younger, angry, and aggressive wolf, whom Heyborne portrays with a stronger, faster-paced voice. Heyborne’s versatility in pitch brings out the enthusiastic naïveté of 13-year-old Casey and the high, raucous cawing of Merla the raven. The emotional highs and lows in the characters’ changing relationships are further expressed through Heyborne’s dynamic use of volume. Overall, this is a beautifully intense and haunting listening experience.” (Audio File: Real Time Reviews)
“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.” (Publishers Weekly)
“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.” (The Horn Book)
“Old Wolf is a brilliant, tension-filled, coming-of-age tale for young readers and tweens about friction between the young, strong, and impulsive and the old and wise. It’s a tale of life and death. As the young boy and the old wolf move toward a climactic meeting, the character caught in the middle is the snippy and forthright old raven who’s proposed a deal to Nashoba that will benefit both the wolves and the hungry ravens.
“In both the animal and human threads of the story, we see life transitions and the tension between youthful impulsiveness and mature wisdom. I particularly like the depiction of Casey’s level-headed parents. In addition to the bow and arrows, they give Casey archery books, schedule appointments for upcoming archery lessons, and talk to him about safety, before leaving him home alone with his new weapon.
“The story shows how video games can have a terribly desensitizing effect on young players. In real life, death is final. When we experience the loss of parents, friends, siblings, or others of significance, our lives permanently change. But In Casey’s favorite game, every animal he kills soon reappears. Nothing is lost.
“That video game has in no way prepared Casey for the encounter that is just steps away.” (Richie Partington, Richie’s Picks)