“A few feet away, the wolf stared at Lizzie with pale silver eyes, ears pricking forward in sharp triangles.” So begins Elsie Broach’s middle grade novel The Wolf Keepers.
Quickly, the ethical issue of keeping animals in cages as opposed to releasing them to the wild arises with valid arguments for each woven into the warp of the novel. The weft weave carries interesting information about the animals, like the long necks of the giraffe making it hard for them to throw up. Against this background, the zookeeper’s daughter Lizzie soon meets Tyler who has run away from his foster parents and has been hiding with the elephants.
Together they keep Tyler hidden and search for answers to several mysteries. Why are the wolves getting sick and dying? Where is John Muir’s cabin in the woods in Tenaya Canyon? Lizzie ponders an additional mystery. What is the story of Tyler’s original family and why has he run away from his foster parents? After what seems to be a rash action that leaves them lost in Yosemite, they must also answer the mystery of how to survive and get back to the zoo.
The mysteries keep the reader in suspense while liberally seasoning the story with both the history and rationale behind John Muir’s love of nature. His quotes are written in pertinent places as Lizzie keeps her summer journal assignment. She reads to Tyler, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” Tyler, having experienced hunger, is quite sure that people need bread more than beauty.
In the end, Lizzie and Tyler along with the reader, must decide if it is right to do a terrible thing for a good reason. The author does not tie up solutions to all the issues but leaves room for great discussions considering all sides of the problems of rescuing wild animals, displaying them in an educational manner that raises awareness in the public, and recognizing the need for animals to be free in their own environment.
Elsie Broach closes with an informative author’s note giving background on the real history she has included and noting which parts are fictional. I highly recommend the book for middle schoolers and for people concerned for wildlife.