Van Steenwyk (The Unkingdom of God, 2013, etc.) offers an illustrated chapter book about an angry red wolf who encounters a saintly beggar king.
The Red Wolf is born into a pack that lives deep in the woods outside of the town of Stonebriar. Her parents raise her with tales of the history of her kind, the Lords of the Forest, who have slowly ceded their territory to the growth of human settlement. They also teach her the necessity of never taking more food than necessary and sharing what she has with others. The Red Wolf grows up angry; eventually, her parents die, and she loses her pack before becoming the rage-fueled Blood Wolf that haunts the dreams of Stonebriar’s residents. It takes the appearance of the Beggar King, a man of peace who holds the respect of both the townsfolk and the forest animals, to calm the Red Wolf’s anger and teach her to live in harmony with her neighbors. The Red Wolf then takes these lessons and uses them to solve a problem: a band of outlaws lives in her woods and terrorizes the surrounding towns. She must decide whether there are better solutions to cruelty than violence and whether such solutions are practical in a world short on sympathy. The story is an imaginative retelling of the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio; though rooted in Christian tradition, the book contains no overt religiosity, and secular parents should feel comfortable recommending it to their children. Van Steenwyk writes in sharp, muscular prose highly suitable for the fabulistic subject matter, deftly navigating both the darker and lighter segments of the story. The true standouts of the book, however, are the illustrations by Joel Hedstrom. Taking Japanese woodblock printing and Greek vases as his inspiration, Hedstrom supplements the text with full-page illustrations in brilliant colors that feel simultaneously ancient and stylishly contemporary. The result is a book out of time: a coupling of narrative and illustration that should stoke the imagination of any young modern reader.
A visually stunning work addressing themes of peace, generosity, and forgiveness.