Most of us, when we talk about our wild children, don’t mean we let the kid run around in a loinclot h and hang from trees, though that would certainly make for easier potty training. We’re not implying that his best buddies are anthropomorphized bears and chimps, either. In other words, we’re not saying our kid is a modern day Mowgli. Well, unless you’re talking about this kid. Usually, we simply mean that our precious little angel is somewhat averse to behaving with decorum. Ours is the kid scaling the tower of toilet paper display while other children wait nicely in line at the grocery store. Our kids prefer to wear meals instead of eat them. They are the tree climbers, the permanent marker wall artists, the shoeless hooligans with dirt under their fingernails who have stolen our hearts.
Still, we try to protect our wild ones from any mishaps that may befall them. We teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. We warn them about the perils of gravity as they scale trees in the backyard. We make them wear seatbelts and kneepads and helmets. We wonder if they make Hazmat suits in children’s sizes.
Wild kids have always been a big theme in kid’s books and movies. Apparently offing the folks is popular. The reason parental removal is so prevalent in children’s entertainment is because it gives kids agency they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They are in charge! So what if Kevin is home alone? He can eat ice cream for dinner and fend off burglars with his technically advanced paint can pendulum skills! They can go wild. This desire for independence gives us the Boxcar Children, Oliver Twist and Punky Brewster.
While we don’t encourage actually leaving the kiddies home alone, especially if they’ve gotten bored with their zip line attempt and you have ceiling fans — there’s just nothing good that can happen with attaching a little brother to a ceiling fan — we do encourage letting your roving gang of feral children explore their wild sides. Mud never hurt anyone. Running around like a crazy person never hurt anyone (okay, yes it did but if you keep the scissors out of their hands you should be alright.)
When you need the kids to settle down, reading never hurt anyone either. So here are some books that follow in the great tradition of the wilder side of kid lit.
1. Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis, Ages 8+
Prue McKeel’s brother has been stolen away by a murder of crows (a group of crows is known as a “murder”, see you learned something today) and taken to the Impassable Wilderness, a dense, tangled forest on the edge of Portland (who knew Portland could get more wild than Forest Park.) It’s one of those once-you-go-in-you-never-come-out situations.
Prue is a good sister, so she and her friend, Curtis, go after her little brother into the Impassable Wilderness. There, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics and powerful figures with not so noble intentions is awaiting them.
2. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, Ages 8+
The Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: 10-year-old Alexander keeps his siblings in line by nipping at their heels; Cassiopeia has been known to bark and bite; and Beowulf is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels. These are the children of Ashton Forest.
Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary nanny. She’s supposed to be teaching them the run-of-the-mill math, reading and Latin, but first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies. Meanwhile, mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and where did they come from? This book is a good one for fans of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket.
3. Children of the Wolf by Jane Yolen, Ages 8+
Two young girls who have been raised by wolves are brought to Mohandas’s orphanage. There, Mohandas tries to teach them the ways of humans. This is a classic case of easily taking a kid out of the wild and discovering it isn’t quite as easy getting the wild out of the kid. Yolen’s books have won awards … like, a lot of awards. She can lay claim to everything from the Caldecott to the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults award. There is a lot of material from Yolen, and Children of the Wolf is a good place to start.
4. The Wild Boy by Mordicai Gerstein 6-11
This picture book loosely tells the true story of Victor, who was discovered in 1800 living alone in the forests of southern France. The boy is caught and brought to Paris’s Institute for Deaf Mutes. One doctor takes a special interest in the boy, teaching him skills and caring for him. With its beautiful illustrations, The Wild Boy is an interesting way to approach a true tale. At heart the book is one born of some really well done research. It is simultaneously factual and an emotional story of a truly feral boy. This one is good for your non-fiction fans at home.
5. Wild by Emily Hughes 4-7
Hawaiian artist Emily Hughes brings us her wonderfully colorful book, Wild. The main character is a wild little girl who was taught to talk by birds, to eat by bears and to play by foxes. This kid is all nature no nurture (unless you count the creature teachings) until she is captured by some strange animals that look like her. She notices that they don’t talk right, eat right or play the right way. As the little girl learns to live in civilization, civilization learns to live with her. This one isn’t out yet, but you can order it for its Sept. 10 release.
These five books will hold even the wildest kiddo’s attention with stories of tame children faced with wild places and tame places faced with wild children.
And while the little wildlings (not the Game of Thrones kind but, you know, the ones who are currently stage diving off your couch) are reading, you can turn off the hose that caused the impromptu kitchen swimming pool and figure out how to get the crayons out of the toaster.