“Little Wolf” was the spirit name she secretly gave herself so that she could stay strong in the city’s jungle.
In the heart of the city, on one of its busiest streets, Little Wolf would sit on the front steps of her grandmother’s house. She would howl at the full moon when she longed for the smell of the forest.
Little Wolf tells the story of how a young Indigenous girl adapts to life after her parents separate and she moves with her mother and sister from the countryside to a big city. Written by Teoni Spathelfer, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation from coastal British Columbia, and illustrated by Natassia Davies, who is of Coast Salish ancestry, this book captures both traditional and contemporary themes.
Initially, Little Wolf longs for the animals and forest she once knew although she also discovers nature in the city. At school, when some students bully her because of her heritage, Little Wolf is afraid but then draws on her inner strength:
Little Wolf didn’t know what to do or say to the kids. Suddenly, she found herself howling at the top of her lungs. Her wolf song made the mean kids go away!
Little Wolf connects readers to the protagonist’s culture as she attends beading and traditional West Coast dance classes and depicts the loving relationship Little Wolf has with her grandfather with whom she spends summers fishing. It also relates Little Wolf’s everyday life as she spends time outdoors and connects with animals. Three spreads are dedicated to a special birthday present she gets when she adopts a dog from an animal shelter. As Little Wolf grows up, she reads about people from other parts of the world. She reads a book about Black people written by Martin Luther King Jr. and is inspired by the author “who wanted peace for people of all colours” and feels hopeful. The book concludes as Little Wolf graduates from elementary school and starts high school, proudly wearing a colourful new shirt patterned with pictures of girls from many cultures, including an Indigenous girl.
At times, Little Wolf is a choppy read as it is a series of vignettes rather than a story arc with a plot, and there are a few gaps. For example, Little Wolf’s sister is initially mentioned and shown in the first spread, but she never appears again. It is also unclear if Little Wolf lives with her grandmother although mention is made of her grandmother’s house. Nevertheless, the strength of Little Wolf lies in how it gently moves from personal challenges towards hope and in its unifying thread of pride in one’s culture. Readers will be left with no doubt about Little Wolf’s sense of confidence as she grows up and the joy she finds in her heritage.
The illustrations in Little Wolf consist of both realistic and cartoon-like graphic drawing styles resulting in what appear to be a mix of hand-drawn and digitally rendered images. Traditional Indigenous art and apparel, such as sweaters, moccasins, and beadwork, are included along with contemporary clothing and settings. The bright colour palette emphasizes a cheerful range of oranges, blues, purples, and pinks.
Little Wolf could definitely be used in both family and educational settings to discuss a range of topics including resiliency, bullying, racial discrimination, and cultural diversity, inclusion, and celebration.
Anita Miettunen is a writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She holds a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia.v