Monday, August 17, 2015

REVIEW: "A Wolf at the Gate" - by Mark Van Steenwyk (author request)

"A Wolf at the Gate is an imaginative retelling of the legend of St. Francis and the wolf. The Red Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a humble beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. A Wolf at the Gate is a great way to teach grade-school children about active nonviolence."

"The Blood Wolf prowls near the village of Stonebriar at night. She devours chickens and goats and cows and cats. Some say children are missing. But this murderous wolf isn't the villain of our story; she's the hero! The Blood Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. How will she react when those she loves are threatened?"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Van Steenwyk 
Mark Van Steenwyk lives in a big old house in Minneapolis with his wife Amy, his son Jonas, and an assortment of friends. Their home is one of two houses of hospitality of the Mennonite Worker. An author of both fiction and nonfiction, he writes to provoke the political and spiritual imaginations of his readers.

DISCLAIMER: A copy of the book was given to me in exchange for a fair and honest review, which follows.

 So, I just read this book called A Wolf at the Gate. Someone I know wrote it and I was eager to get the chance to read it once I knew Mark had finished this masterpiece. I finally got the chance to read it yesterday, and now I fully intend to make the paperback copy a part of my children's book shelf.

This book starts with the birth of a wolf, so it says in the beginning of the book. This was not an ordinary wolf but a wolf born with a very red fur; a wolf her parents knew was destined for greatness. They were the leaders of their pack and as such carried the knowledge of their pack...including the burdensome and infuriating knowledge of how wolf-kind had been badly abused by humankind.  Though angered by the humans' actions towards the wolves, the Red Wolf's parents knew there was a better way and worked very hard to share their knowledge and wisdom with her so that she might be a great leader when they passed. Pass they did and she was the uncontested leader of the pack... But not for long. She lost her pack and began to behave in a manner that would have made her parents very sad. Then she meets a man who changed her life forever and enables her to change the lives of others forever. I can't say too much more without spoiling the entire book, so I'm going to stop here.

A Wolf at the Gate is a children's book and is written, therefore, as a children's book.  It is put together simply (much like the "beggar" who features prominently in the work). Simply written, simply constructed, and simply profound. It is not a long read; it took me all of about half an hour to get through (though it would have been a shorter time had I not stopped so frequently to admire the absolutely beautiful artwork that compliments the book perfectly - a friend of mine even had one of the illustrations tattooed on his arm), and yet there is more profundity packed into that short work then in many I have yet read!  As far as characters, settings, plot, etc are concerned, this is a fairly simple work...but remember it is intended as a children's book (this is important, as I know from both personal and professional work that affecting change in one's attitude towards the world is more permanently accomplished when you attempt to affect that change with children).  It is not so complex that it's message of fiercely passive resistance and kindness is lost and yet it is complex enough to hold an adult's attention even though it is a children's book.  It focuses on a couple main characters and thoroughly develops one of them - the Red Wolf.

I absolutely love this book!  As I said, it is incredibly profound in an exceptionally nuanced sort of way and contains a powerful moral lesson.  Written in a style that is slightly reminiscent of Aesop's fables, it also contained elements that were slightly nostalgic for me as I remember fondly reading Aesop's fables with my parents when I was but a tiny tot.  I love this book I love this book I love this book....please buy it and show it to your children, and grand children, and their children...

I promise you won't regret the time it takes to flip the pages.

Shortly after this book was published it was picked up on one of Amazon's best-sellers list. Currently I know that a publisher has approached Mark to publish it themselves as currently it is a self-published work. Frankly I think it deserves these accolades, and I would actually love to see it made into something for the screen; whether that be an animation in the same style as the illustrations or a movie adaptation or something like that.

Overall on an ascending scale of 1 to 5, 
I give this book a huge 5!!
(and any of you loyal readers of my reviews know I don't hand those out easily!)