A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this story has moved kids for years. 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.
What's the story?
Buck is a large dog living the good life on a comfortable California estate in the late 1800s when he is kidnapped and transported to the Yukon 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 versus 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 this 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?
For kids who love animals
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.