I receive free electronic advanced reader copies of these books through an arrangement between the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion on NetGalley’s website. I only review books on my blog that I really love.
When I saw a book titled Learning to be Wild, I thought I’d learn survival skills or how to play outside. I was wrong. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the book, though!
Learning to Be Wild: How Animals Achieve Peace, Create Beauty, and Raise Families (A Young Reader’s Adaptation)
By Carl Safina, Roaring Brook Press, August 22, 2023, 224 pages, ages 10-14.
Sometimes, I request a book without really reading about it. Based on the title, I thought I would review a book for middle-grade students—a Last-Child-in-the-Woods-sort-of-guide. Instead, I discovered a fascinating book about cultural development by non-human societies.
Who knew chimpanzees, scarlet macaws, and sperm whales have recognizable cultures they pass down to their offspring? The idea of animals learning to be wild from the matriarchs and patriarchs in their community astounded me. I knew orca whales spoke different dialects and lived in family groups led by a matriarch. But I never considered what this knowledge had to do with me.
Safina makes a strong case for more research and consideration of non-human societies and their right to live on this earth. His research into animal cultures helps readers understand the need for conservation and stewarding the world’s resources before more species go extinct.
If we don’t learn to steward, study, and consider the cultures of animals, how can we possibly get along with each other? We must accept that at least three species learn to be wild from observing others in their community. Reading this book reminds me of the wisdom of my Native American students and the respect they show for animals. What a pity white colonizers couldn’t see the Native’s civilized treatment of animals for what it was—respect for different cultures.
Why You Should Read This Book
1). Any book that broadens our perspective will help us consider different sides of narratives we have always listened to and believed.
2). We can’t ignore the diminution of species. They go extinct. Sixteen years ago, Bobolinks showed up regularly where I lived in Montana. Thirteen years ago, I didn’t see a single one.
3). Understanding other cultures (human or animal) will help us understand our interdependency. We need each other and all living things for survival, whether we know it or not.
What I Loved About This Book
Although I loved this book, I have difficulty imagining more than one or two of my middle-grade or high-school students sitting down to read it. I highly recommend teachers and librarians read this book. High school science teachers may want to add it to their reading list and base a unit of study on discovering culture in non-human societies by observing them in detail over an extended period.
The vocabulary and reading levels fall on the high end (8th grade +), making this book perfect for highly motivated students passionate about animals and wildlife.