Julie of the Wolves tells the story of a young Eskimo girl, Miyax, who survives in the Arctic by making friends with a wolf pack. Throughout her adventure, she falls in love with the majesty of the natural world and struggles to accept that she must return to civilization. So vivid is Jean Craighead George’s depiction of the animal world that readers will fall in love with the wolves alongside Miyax. The novel introduces readers to the unique biome of the Arctic and the unique behaviors of the gray wolf. It also depicts many aspects of traditional Inuit culture and explores the challenges of assimilation and modernization felt by the native peoples.
Julie of the Wolves contains many meticulously researched details about the Arctic gray wolf. Nevertheless, it is a work of fiction and takes liberties in the depiction of Miyax’s interactions with the wolves. Students may be curious about the accuracy of the story, and might benefit from supplementing their novel study with some science background. Consider having students begin or end the novel by watching a documentary like the one linked below. Students can use this information to inform their reading and compare and contrast real wolves with those in the novel. Other useful scientific pre-reading might include background on plants of the tundra and the unusual pattern of sunlight during the Arctic summers and winters.
In addition to the scientific background, students may also benefit from an introduction to Inuit culture and history. The Inuits belong to an ethnic group that once extended from Siberia, Russia, through Alaska and Canada, and as far as Greenland. For thousands of years, these people survived in the cold Arctic climate through hunting. Their lives began to change with the coming of Europeans and, in particular, with the rise of the whaling industry and introduction of new diseases in the late nineteenth century. The whaling industry eliminated the Inuit trade patterns, forcing many hunters to find a new way of surviving. New jobs, combined with a declining population due to disease, caused many Inuits to resettle on the coast in more populated areas. Although the U.S. government provided support and opportunities for the Inuit population, it also forced assimilation at the expense of Inuit heritage and preferences. The tension between the old ways and the new is one of the most important thematic elements of Julie of the Wolves. For further study of this topic, have students explore the following web page: https://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Inuit.html.
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