Librarians play a big part in the lives of us book-lovers. We become really close to them. My school librarian has played a big part in the last 2-3 years of my elementary school life. And now, without further ado, “Paige Binder” (we all use pen names at ‘Lost in a Book’!):
Librarian guilt. That is what I have about all those Newbery Award winners and classic children’s novels I have never read. It is why I made a list of eight books to read this summer that will reduce my guilt load. They are not necessarily books I want to read, but I’m sure at least half of them will end up as favorites. One classic that has gone unread is Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves. When George passed away this spring, the world lost a bright star in children’s literature, and I knew it was time to check out her Newbery Award-winning novel.
I have to admit, I was not expecting to enjoy Julie of the Wolves. The plot sounded too similar to another book I never made it through—Jack London’s Call of the Wild. I enjoy being in nature, but “man against nature” survival stories generally put me to sleep. (Please don’t ask if I have read Gary Paulsen’s classic Hatchet.) Therefore it was with some trepidation that I began to read Julie of the Wolves.
I was happy to find out that George created a compelling backstory for her spunky heroine Miyax, known to her penpal in San Francisco as Julie. As the book opens, the reader learns that Miyax has lost both her beloved parents and was married off at age 13 to a man named Daniel. Clearly, the marriage was an unhappy one, as Miyax has taken her chances in the Alaskan wilderness in order to escape it. Lost and alone, she attempts to join a pack of wolves in order to survive. Knowing that more will be revealed about Miyax’s past, as well as the anticipation of how she will survive once winter sets in, has kept me reading. George’s descriptions of Miyax’s attempts to communicate with the wolves are incredibly realistic and well-researched. The author’s lifetime of studying the ways of animals allows her to bring the wolves to life as characters that can hold their own against human ones.
Jean Craighead George had her own fascinating life story. She grew up with parents who were naturalists and spent most of her childhood days outdoors. As an adult, she became a journalist and was one of the first women to join the White House Press Corps. After her children were born, she made outdoor adventures a big part of her family’s life. The menagerie of wild animals that made a home in her house and yard provided inspiration for her books. She was opinionated and strongwilled when it came to her beliefs, which perhaps made it easier to stand her ground when Julie of the Wolves was challenged by censors.
As I make my way through the list of “Books I Should Have Read” this summer, I hope to find more unexpected favorites like Julie of the Wolves. A balanced reading diet can be made up of reading what we like as well as what is good for us, but for this librarian, the real pleasure comes when I find both in one novel.
‘Paige Binder’ is an elementary school librarian and former middle school teacher. This summer she will be buying her first Kindle and making her way through that list of award winners. We hope she will come back and tell us about her award winners reading adventure at the end of the summer!