A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Jack London's classic novel The Call of the Wild was originally published in 1903. It traces the journey of a dog named Buck from domestic family life to pulling sleds during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, and then heeding the pull of his natural instincts to return to the wild. This is a story of survival and includes a great deal of brutality that may be upsetting to animal lovers. Dogs are clubbed and whipped. Animals fight each other to the death, and tear out the throats of dogs and men. The book also has some bigoted and sexist portrayals of humans. At one stage in Buck's story, he's owned by two men who are described as "... a black-faced giant called Francois. Perrault was a French-Canadian, and swarthy; but Francois was a French-Canadian half-breed, and twice as swarthy." Native Americans commit a ruthless attack in the book as well, killing dogs and men. And the only woman who figures in the story acts like a spoiled child, by turns overfeeding the dogs (which leads to insufficient food and starvation later) and overworking them. Ultimately, however, this is a story about the power of a dog's natural instincts, and the dignity that animals deserve. The book has been adapted for film, most recently in the 2020 movie starring Harrison Ford.
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- Kids say
What's the story?
In Jack London's THE CALL OF THE WILD, family dog Buck is kidnapped and transported to the Yukon in Canada to be a sled dog during the Klondike Gold Rush. At first Buck tries to fight back, but he's 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, helping him survive in the brutal wilderness of the North. Buck becomes a leader and a formidable hunter who's attuned to his senses and the wilderness around him.
Is it any good?
Jack London's muscular and poetic novel is a thrilling adventure story that explores the relationship of dogs with humans, and dogs with the natural world. As Buck increasingly heeds the instincts of his wolf ancestors, he becomes both more alive and more truly himself. However, not every dog in the story has the power to survive in the wild, and many of the humans are ill-suited for the harsh conditions they face. By exploring the brutality of an untamed environment through the eyes of a dog, London reveals much about human and animal behavior. The Call of the Wild may not be well-suited for sensitive young animal lovers, but it's a powerful story that makes readers think.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how attitudes toward animals have changed in the century since The Call of the Wild was written. How are animals treated in the book? How would this book be received if it were written today?
How do you feel about the way Native Americans are portrayed in this novel?
This book is written with a third-person narrator, but from Buck's point of view. Why do you think Jack London used the dog's perspective? How did this help the author tell the story?
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