The Call of the Wild

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Call of the Wild Book Poster Image
Classic animal tale of dignity and survival.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 14 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 50 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Provides historically accurate portrait of the Yukon gold rush of the late 1800s, including details on how dogsled teams work.

Positive Messages

The main message here is that the wild, unfettered life is preferable to civilization for dogs -- and perhaps for humans too. Today's readers will find that this depicts "a man's (and dog's) world," and women are referred to rarely and with sexism.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Buck's final owner is rough but more decent and compassionate than any of the other humans in the story. Buck himself is often beaten, once almost to death. But ultimately, his dignity and spirit will grip kids and hold them.

Violence

The story is set in the wilderness, and it's a story of what it takes to survive. Men and dogs are beaten and killed, and attack and kill each other, quite brutally. Men beat dogs with clubs and whips, dogs fight to the death and tear out the throats of men and other dogs, a dog is torn apart by a pack.

Sex
Language

"Hell" is used rarely.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Men smoke pipes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jack London's Call of the Wild, originally published in 1903, has moved kids for generations and is considered a great work of literature. Its fast-paced drama hooks even reluctant readers. That said, it also reflects the sensibilities of another age. This is a story of survival, which entails a great deal of brutality by and toward dogs. It may be a bit much for sensitive young animal lovers of today, when beating dogs with clubs is not considered an acceptable way of training them. Dogs fight each other to the death, and tear out the throats of dogs and men, yielding geysers of blood when the jugular is ripped open. Buck, the canine main character, is often beaten, once almost to death. But ultimately, this is a story of dignity and leadership that will grip kids and hold them.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byJen B. August 6, 2018
Adult Written bySilly Parent 101 January 14, 2012

Terrible

It's Terrible. Period.
Teen, 14 years old Written byChewbeka October 15, 2019

*WARNING*

*WARNING* This book contains lots of violents parts and I recommend that no children younger than 14 should read it. But it has lots of educational value about... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byJeezLuiz March 15, 2017

Interesting and Moving Novel

I was assigned this book for a project, and once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. This is a great novel that took place in the Yukon, and gives a wo... Continue reading

What's the story?

Buck is a large dog living the good life on a comfortable California estate in the 1890s when he's kidnapped and transported to the Yukon in Canada to be a sled dog during a gold rush there. At first he tries to rebel, but he is soon beaten into submission. As he passes through a succession of owners, he finds that ancient instincts from his wolf ancestors are awakening within him, enabling him to survive and prosper in the brutal wilderness of the North. It is a tale that is brutal at times but ultimately an uplifting story about inner dignity and what it takes to be a leader.

Is it any good?

THE CALL OF THE WILD is a great work of literature; there can be no doubt. Written in a style that is at once muscular and poetic, it is both an adventure story and a meditation on civilization vs. savagery, with savagery clearly having more appeal to the author. As Buck gradually reverts to the instincts and behaviors of his wolf ancestors, he becomes both more alive and more truly himself. This, and its implications for human beings, gives young readers plenty to think and talk about, which explains why this book continues to be a favorite for discussion groups and classrooms.

There's a brutality here that not all children will find to their taste, and modern American children are more likely to want to discuss the way Buck is treated than the way he acts. The sensibilities that drove the author and his original audience have changed dramatically since the time this book was written, and animal rights and treatment are a hot topic with children these days. "The law of club and fang" is a long way from the experience of most modern young readers, who may not agree with author Jack London's view of the whole situation. This, of course, can also prompt interesting discussions, though they may be different from what the author was thinking of when he wrote it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how values and sensibilities have changed in the century since Call of the Wild was written. If this had been written about events happening today, would you react differently? Would the book have been received differently?

  • How has the treatment and perception of animals changed over time?

  • This book is considered a classic. Why do you think readers have cherished it for so long? Thinking about other classics that you've read or know about, can you think of what gives a book lasting appeal?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animals

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