The Wolves of Currumpaw, written and illustrated by William Grill published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books
In 1898, Ernest Thompson Seton published his classic collection of stories, Wild Animals I Have Known. Seton was a gnarly outdoorsman, a British naturalist, whose reminiscences of his encounters with animals are Jack Londonesque in their raw, wild, matter-of-factness. It’s a book that was on every boy’s nightstand for generations, though it has gone a bit out of fashion lately.
The first story in Seton’s collection – Lobo: The King of Currumpaw — has now been retold and illustrated by the phenomenally-talented British artist, William Grill, whose first book, Shackleton’s Journey, won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, and also won my heart. My review of it is here. Grill has added to Seton’s story with further research into Seton himself, the era in which he lived, and the locale of New Mexico.
Old Lobo was the leader of a pack of wolves whose “deep howl struck fear through the hearts of ranchmen and farmers” as they awaited the dreaded attacks on their herds of cattle. A bounty was placed on his head, yet over and over, skillful hunters were outmatched by Lobo’s cunning.
Enter Ernest Thompson Seton, whose determination to succeed where others had failed drives him to mercilessly pursue his prey. It’s a tale that will break the hearts of many readers, but keep reading and discover how it also ended up breaking the heart of Seton and steering him into new, conservationist activity.
As expected from Grill, this is a stunningly beautiful book, from the endpapers, blanketed in the vermilion and charcoal colors and patterns of the Navajo, straight through to the illustrated glossary — tidy rows of Grill’s thumbprint-drawings accompanying definitions for this Western vocabulary of snipe and mesa and heifer.
For the story itself, 75 pages long, Grill employs a combination of cinematic sequences – dozens of thumbprint-style images like clicks of the shutter, zooming in on the details; and then grand, double-page, full stops – sweeping vistas of the West sprawling out, arresting our attention, the tiny stature of man and beast shown puny against these imposing landscapes. Grill completely immerses us in this world, this story.
The illustrations are in colored pencil. I love the textures, precision, and sketchbook-feel — the unpolished sense in keeping with the rugged territory, as though we’re seeing what captured Grill’s eye at any given moment. The natural, subdued palette appeals to realism, the tenor of the story, and respects the ability of the reader to settle into a long, sober account, devoid of Disneyfication.
Be aware that this is a true story. Animals die, front and center. For those sturdy enough for that, I highly recommend this remarkable, gorgeous book. Ages perhaps 7 or 8 through Adult.