word craft


Old Wolf

Old Wolf

Dick Jackson/Atheneum 2015
illus. by Bri­an Floca

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audio book nar­rat­ed by 
Kir­by Heyborne

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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.

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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)

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