Friday, 11 December 2020

We Are Wolves

We Are Wolves by Katrina Nannestad (ABC Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 978073334088

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

Towards the end of World War II, the German towns of East Prussia are swamped with Russian soldiers. The Wolf family – eleven-year-old Liesl, seven-year-old Otto and toddler Mia, along with their mother and grandparents – flee from their village, hoping to reach the safety of Lithuania. As they cross a frozen lagoon, Russian shells rain down on them. In the ensuing chaos, Liesl, Otto and Mia run for their lives and soon find themselves alone in a forest. Will they ever see Mama, Opa or Oma again?

Aimed at readers aged ten and older, We Are Wolves is a moving homage to the real-life Wolfskinder – wolf children – who were left to fend for themselves after the war because their parents had been killed or were missing. Katrina Nannestad takes the reader on a compelling emotional journey that parallels the powerful physical odyssey endured by the Wolf children, as they search for food and shelter, love and hope.

Although the story is based on historical events, Katrina’s use of present tense gives the story an immediacy that draws the reader right into the action. The nature of good versus evil is an overarching theme, as Liesl discovers that not all Russians are bad and that sometimes honourable people need to do dishonourable things – become ‘a burglar, a thief, a vandal, and a liar’ – in order to survive.

The book is divided into parts, with each opener beautifully illustrated in black and white by Martina Heiduczek. Softened by the textured casing and the choice of muted tones, Martina’s cover image is a touching reminder to young readers that even in the midst of despair, care and connection are possible.

We Are Wolves offers a rich literary forest of light and shade, protection and peril, which will keep young readers turning the pages. Dark matters are well balanced with merry moments, and the uplifting ending leaves room for happiness to bloom in the hearts of readers and characters alike.

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