Conservation Ecology and Finding Your Pack: Joy Interviews Author Rosanne Parry

I have been a huge fan of Rosanne Parry’s work since her first middle-grade novel, HEART OF A SHEPHERD, arrived back in 2009, when she and I were both debut children’s authors and occasionally appearing together at book events. Rosanne’s books are frequently set in her home state of Oregon and are heart-warming, lovely, and honest. Rosanne beautifully evokes both character journeys and the landscape in which they take place. They’re perfect middle grade novels! A WOLF CALLED WANDER is just out and it’s based on the real story of the journey of wolf named OR7. Think THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY, but in the mind of a real animal! This one is a must-read for all kids, but especially for nature and animal lovers.

Rosanne will be in store on June 15 (more on that below), but I was also fortunate to be able to chat with her about the book and its origins and research. Here’s what she had to say!

Joy Preble: WOLF CALLED WANDER is clearly researched so thoroughly and meticulously. Can you tell us a bit about that process—not only of researching the real life story but also doing such a clever, deep dive into what it feels like to actually be a wolf?

Rosanne Parry: I was very lucky to be able to go to all the places in this book. I’m especially glad I got a chance to camp on the Zumwalt Prairie. It’s the last stretch of never-cultivated bunchgrass prairie. It’s SO beautiful! Wildflowers and birds, elk, and coyotes and howling wolves in the distance. In July it got over 100º by noon but still got down to 35º overnight. Challenging! But wolves like the cold—so it’s perfect for them!  I’ve only seen a pronghorn once but it was mesmerizing. I have loved every bit of the ground I’ve hiked over or drove through.


Zumwalt Prairie located in Imnaha, Oregon

One of the reasons I chose this story was the challenge of trying to put myself in the mind of a wolf. To see what a wolf would see and make decisions on a wolf’s priorities and not my own. I had to really dig into the dynamics of a pack structure which is well defined on the one hand but also quite fluid in response to crisis. So for example even though Wander’s brother is the more dominant of the pups when they are young, just like a lot of alpha pups he doesn’t end up leading a pack in the end. That was interesting to learn about and think about. And then the longing for home and family is not hard to tap into at all. I hope it’s a touchstone for lots of readers.

And I’m grateful to the artist Mónica Armiño for absolutely stunning art which will make this book more accessible to kids all over the world who are reading this in translation.

Artwork by Mónica Armiño for A WOLF CALLED WANDER

JP: As a reader, I felt you got the balance between the realism of wild animals’ and nature’s violence and creating a world that wasn’t overly scary for your younger readers. Was that tough to sort out?

RP: It was quite the tug of war. On the one hand my editors asked for more drama, more intense action. On the other hand actual teachers and parents of 3-5th graders said, “Don’t let the brother die! Remember how tenderhearted our children can be!” I was a tenderhearted reader myself so I tended to pull more towards the gentle resolution. Still you can’t blow off your editor completely and maintaining the tension of a story is important so it was a balancing act throughout.

I almost never use a focus group of kid readers. But because I’m asking readers to care about an animal that kills and eats other animals, I asked a teacher friend to read it with her 4th graders with a view to whether all the hunting was too much. She said they were quite riveted by the story and when she asked them what sort of reader they thought the story was best for they said, “Well, it did have violence in it. I wouldn’t give it to any Third Graders. That would be very wrong. But it’s perfect for Fourth Graders! We’re all fine with it. Not too scary. Nope. We’ve got this!”  That made me laugh!

It was such a treat to be able to give those same students (who are 8th graders this year!) a copy of the finished book for their school library.

JP: I know it’s up to readers to take away whatever they choose to take away from a novel, but that said, did you have a purpose in mind when you wrote the story, or were you just trying to stay true to the real OR-7?

RP: Well, in echoing the events of OR-7’s life I did want to give him a happy ending with a family of his own. And in my class of beta readers, my teacher friend reported that the boys, in particular, were big fans of the romance ending. They cheered! Shouted out, “He found someone to love!” “She said yes to him!”

Isn’t that sweet? But she also found that it lead to some really heartfelt conversations about migrants and refugees. It’s my hope that this story will spark many classroom conversations about what migration feels like and what migrating creatures both animal and human need.

JP:  For those who aren’t as knowledgeable, tell us a little about the history of Oregon’s wolves. What endangers wolves? What are the dangers of re-populating them into certain areas?

RP: Wolves were once one of the most common animals in all of North America. The biggest threat to them is loss of habitat which is a pressure both from urban growth and from climate change. Illegal hunting and road strikes also take a toll. But wolves are strong and resourceful and they can run a really long way so the resurgence of wolves would have happened even without the help of the Fish and Wildlife Departments across the west.

Wolves in the wild are very shy of humans so the only danger is to livestock. But ranchers are pretty savvy too and they’ve instituted many practices that have discouraged wolf-on-livestock predation. Range riders work well. Guard dogs help. But here’s my favorite—you know those wind-sock men that you see advertising things by the road? Wolves really hate the wind-sock guy. Cattle and sheep barely notice it. So some ranchers rent one during lambing and calving season to keep wolves away from their pregnant animals.

If you care about wolves then protecting public land is important. But you might also consider supporting your local ranchers by eating the local meat and milk they produce and using wool. Also if you are driving the wilderness, slow down. Especially at dawn and dusk. All the animals of the forest will thank you—the “black river” is a danger to them all.

JP:  I fell in love with your writing with your debut HEART OF A SHEPHERD, a heart-warming novel that also depicted Oregon. Besides the fact that you live there, what makes Oregon special to you, a place that you want to continue mining fictionally?

RP: Thank you! I do love my home state. It’s got a lot of different habitats from urban to coastal rainforest to high desert. And Oregon is brimming over with interesting history. It didn’t become a state until 1859 but our human history goes back to the last ice age and maybe even farther. So I could spend an entire career just mining this one place.

But the publishers of A WOLF CALLED WANDER wanted a companion book and after much research we’ve decided to feature orcas from the Salish Sea which is just a little bit north of where I live. I’m in the thick of writing that book now!

JP: What else would you like us to know about the fabulous Rosanne Parry?

RP: I’m very happy to announce that I will have a picture book forthcoming from Greenwillow! It will be a non-fiction book called THE WOLF EFFECT  about how wolves changed the landscape of Yellowstone National Park for the better. I’m so excited! It’s going to be a great companion book for A WOLF CALLED WANDER.  It’s in very early stages at the moment so there isn’t a confirmed date but I’m really looking forward to working with my wonderful team at Greenwillow.

JP: Thank you so very much for such fascinating answers, Rosanne!  We can’t wait to see you in store on Saturday, June 15, at 3 PM!

Click here for info on Rosanne’s upcoming store event and click below to pre-order A WOLF CALLED WANDER

Want to know more about Rosanne Parry and her books? Click here:

This interview has been edited for clarity.

A Wolf Called Wander Cover Image
By Rosanne Parry, Mónica Armiño (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780062895936
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Greenwillow Books - May 7th, 2019

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