Book Review: The Wild Children

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Wild Children is a well-written story about orphans in the Soviet Union near the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in the 1920s, who are faced with a choice between cold and hunger in an orphanage, or cold and hunger on the streets.  Upon awakening in his home to find that his family has disappeared, twelve-year-old Alex flees the authorities with the help of his teacher and eventually joins a gang of street children.  The gang is led by an older boy named Peter, who imposes a kind of moral order, prohibiting drugs and murder and limiting certain kinds of infectious disease.  The children wander about the country in search of food and shelter, stealing to survive, always on the run from local authorities.

The dark and frightening content of the book requires discernment on the part of adults, since sensitive children may be deeply affected by it.  However, these children’s horrific situation is softened not only by a happy ending but also by positive themes within the story.  Although Alex’s parents are never seen again, there remain adults and older children in his life (his teacher and her brother, the leader of his gang, a kind baker, and a priest-turned-fisherman who risks his life for them).  These positive figures provide some of the security and moral definition that children need.  Additionally, the children in Alex’s gang are often kind and loyal to one another, and their leader in particular displays wisdom and self-sacrificial courage.  Although the children do survive by stealing (Proverbs 6:30-31), they eventually realize they cannot continue doing so into adulthood.   And unlike many of the orphaned children during this dark period, at the end of the story these children are given the opportunity to escape their hunted life by fleeing to another country.

This survival story is fictional, but it portrays the universal plight of orphans across the world while also capturing a period of Soviet history that is not well known.  If your children are ready for this kind of story, it can help to cultivate compassion in them as well as faith in God, who is the Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:4-6).

Alex’s parents are never seen again and his government is implicitly shown to be untrustworthy.  But this is mitigated by the fact that other adults and older children (his teacher and her brother, the leader of his gang, a kind baker, and a priest-turned-fisherman who risks his life for them) remain as positive figures in his life, providing the security and moral definition that children need.

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Publication Information: Holman, Felice. Wild Children, The. Scribner. 1983. ISBN: 0140319301.
Categories: 4 Stars, Age 08-12, Books Children Love
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Posted on July 18, 2009

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