If you like animal stories, this middle grade novel is a good choice! I didn't know what to expect when I opened it, but the story and characters were so interesting I read it straight through without stopping.
Twelve-year-old Lizzie Durango and her dad have always had a zoo to call their home. Lizzie spends her days watching the animals and taking note of their various behaviors. Though the zoo makes for a unique home, it's a hard place for Lizzie to make lasting friends. But all this changes one afternoon when she finds Tyler Briggs, a runaway who has secretly made the zoo his makeshift home.
The two become friends and, just as quickly, stumble into a covert investigation involving the zoo wolves who are suddenly dying. Little do they know, this mystery will draw them into a high-stakes historical adventure involving the legend of John Muir as they try to navigate safely while lost in Yosemite National Park.
The Wolf Keepers was written by Elise Broach and published by Henry Holt & Company in 2016.
Why you want to read this book…
It’s full of secrets you’ll want to know more about – Tyler’s mysterious past, the problem of what’s happening to the wolves, and the location of a lost cabin. The two main settings of the zoo and Yosemite National Park really come alive through the author's details. In addition to being a mystery and an animal story, this was also partly a wilderness survival story! Lizzie was a kind and compassionate character and there's an interesting story line of her getting to know tough-on-the-outside Tyler. The drawings by Alice Ratterree scattered through the story add to the already vivid picture from the descriptive language.
“It seemed wrong somehow to assume that animals experienced the same emotions as humans, and even more wrong to believe that animal feelings only mattered if they could be understood in human terms.”
If you’re a writer…
There’s a lot to learn from this book about using specific details, building characters with depth and emotion, and crafting a strong plot.
“They could no longer hear the wolves howling, but Lizzie was sharply tuned to every strange sound carrying through the trees…the rustle of pine needles, the snapping of twigs, the occasional chirp, trill, or hoot of some night creature.”
If you’re a teacher…
This would be a great book for a class read aloud. There are interesting possibilities for discussions about animal rights and conservation (should we keep animals in zoo?) as well as social issues (Tyler’s circumstances and his own comments about himself). An author’s note explains the ties to real historical events and people, and details about her research on wolves.
“A few feet away, the wolf stared at Lizzie with pale silver eyes, ears pricking forward in sharp triangles.”
You can read the first chapter at the publisher’s website.
On her website, Elise Broach talks about how her life and writing interact: “when you’re a writer, every part of your life eventually works its way into your books, whether you intend it to or not, so there are definitely bits and pieces of real life—and real people—in all of my stories.”