I love historical fiction. It is great to enjoy a good story and learn just a bit about history along the way. For me history makes more sense when I read about it through the lives of the people who lived it. So it stands to reason that I also am attracted to the middle grade fiction books that tell a story that pulls in bits and pieces of history.
Elise Broach has done that with her new book The Wolf Keepers. She has a fictional story of a young girl living in the zoo with her father the zookeeper. She is interested in the new wolf exhibit (so we have a bit of real science about animals coming into the story). The location of this zoo is not far from Yosemite National Park (a real location with real facts about the park) and Lizzie our main character is learning about John Muir while writing in her summer homework journal ( a real naturalist and writer from history).
Broach has taken so many little pieces of history and wove them into an adventure story that quickly pulls you into it’s mystery. We have a homeless run away boy hiding in the zoo, we have wolves quickly becoming ill and no one knows why. We have Lizzie in the middle of it all trying to sort things out while making a new friend who leads her into the depths of Yosemite, a lost cabin and an old curse.
Each of these events link to real life stories that can be read about and researched by your students. Broach has added some historical facts in an authors note at the back of the book to help get them started.
Besides the historical information we can use this as a model for students when teaching about journaling and writing. There is also lots to discuss about families, loss, relationships and the protection of wild life and the environment tucked into this story as well. A great debate could be set up about the releasing of wolfs back into the wild. (I would tell you more but I want you to read the story first – don’t want to give things away.)
This little gem came out in August and would be great to add to a reading group as you begin a research unit. A bit of fiction along side research makes for interesting work on the half of middle grade students.