Julie of the Wolves is a book about a very brave girl. It is not a girly book, and even we sometimes found ourselves trying not to gag when Julie ate raw caribou and seal, but she had to survive and the Inuit culture views some of these meats as a delicacy. We have heard they are also low in saturated fat, so who's to say we are not missing out on a treat. But the raw meat is just one minor, interesting challenge in teaching this book. Read on to find out more.
One of the first controversies you may encounter is the fact that this book has been banned in various places due to the scene where Daniel attacks Julie. Some parents do not think the scene is appropriate for the reading level of the book; however, there are many books not banned that have strong content and a lower reading level. We recommend that you just make parents aware of the situation ahead of time and to approach this part of the book with care. There are hidden issues here, one of which is that Daniel was a special needs young man being bullied by his peers (character lesson anyone?). We think if parents are prepared, they'll have your back when it comes to helping their kiddos see why this book is so valuable.
There is not a lot of dialogue in the book or interaction between characters. This is a lonely survival story with wide, open spaces and lots of descriptive language: sometimes a little too descriptive… Sorry, we just had images of raw meat there for a minute. So while you may wish you could be in the grand landscape of the Arctic instead of in a dusty classroom with twenty or more young adults, not all of your students are going to love this book. We suggest you show them some of the videos in the pop culture section and get them immersed in the culture. This might help students to relate better to Julie's journey and the hardships she faces alone.
Another challenge that may arise is some of the language in the book. The Inuit language is used throughout the book and it can be tough to read at times. We also refer you back to the last pop culture link where one of the videos in the series ("Language Barrier") might help your students to appreciate the use of traditional language. Use this opportunity to talk about why the author includes these snippets of the language. What does the language add to our experience of the book? Why does the language matter?
One of the opportunities of this story is that it could make a great cross-curricular unit. With all the history, social studies, and even science (Can you say Winter Solstice?), we believe there are endless possibilities for you and your fellow teachers to team up. We recommend you take advantage of these other subject areas to help students get a well-rounded view of the setting for this epic journey.
We also think this book provides a great opportunity to teach real-world issues your students may be facing. Sure, we know you are not in the Arctic—or maybe you are; one never knows with the Internet. The point is that the themes of this novel are not all specific to the setting or the climate or the culture. There is bullying, loneliness, heartbreak, abandonment, and many other real-world issues your students face every day. Relating to Julie's story might just give students the skills they need to survive in the middle school jungle—which, let's face it, really is a jungle.
We hope you enjoy teaching this unit and that you love it so much you will be on the next cruise to Alaska. Perhaps, we will see you there! Hey, we can dream, right?