*The big bad wolf*
Dismantling stereotypes in children's books

It's not a secret that we don't read classic fairy tales over here, mainly because they carry and hand down cultural stereotypes about humans and animals.
I consciously kept my children away from that type of imagery  involving princesses, princes and kings, witches and fierce beasts, waiting for them to be old enough, so that they could 'defend' themselves from those mental images. 
Because of course one can not (nor should aim at) keeping children completely in a bubble. They will learn bits of  Little Red Riding Hood or The Sleeping Beauty (or Frozen:) from friends at school at some point, which is fine, as long as stereotypes don't sit on their bookshelf from birth, as that validates them, encouraging role modelling. 

Let's go back to wolves, as stereotypes on wolves actually had tragic effects, contributing to their extermination in Europe and United Kingdom at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The population dramatically declined in Central Europe and on the Alps until the '70s (with only 100 animals left) when wolves were listed among the protected species in the The Bern Convention, a binding international legal instrument in the field of nature conservation, covering most of the natural heritage of the European continent and extending to some States of Africa, which came into force in 1982, starting the Wolves repopulation. 
Wolves are extinct in Britain, the last animals are believed to have been hunted to extinction in the 17th century [Source: Woodland Trust]
WolfAlps is an important conservation project funded by the EU and linked to the Life Programme, the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout the European Union.
From 2013 to 2018 a team of experts worked on monitoring the population on the Italian Alps and on strategies to prevent wolf attacks on domestic animals, to combat poaching and control the hybridization between wolves and dogs, necessary to maintain the genetic diversity of the wolves in the long term. 
Lastly, an important aim of the project was to spread the knowledge about this species, debunking false myths, negating feelings and wrong beliefs and to encourage tolerance towards the wolf, in order to ensure the conservation of this important animal throughout the Alps.
Wolves are quite adaptable to humans, but humans must learn how to adapt to wolves, in order to happily coexist.

Why am I telling you this? Because it makes so much more sense to read books to children when we can also back them with facts, and the story of wolves extinction, as well as the story of this specific project are inspiring stories to tell.

Lupinella tells the story of a young wolf cub, which is also the story of all wolves who recolonised the Alps in the past years. 
It was written as part of the WolfAlps Project, with the aim of spreading the knowledge among children about the real nature of wolves and about their importance in the Alps ecosystem. 

The book combines the voice of one of the project experts and the engaging story of a young wolf (whose fictional name is Lupinella), beautifully told from the animal's perspective by author and nature lover Giuseppe Festa.
We follow her from birth as she plays with her siblings until the time she leaves the herd to explore the world independently, giving birth to her own cubs when she turns two. The First-person narrative accompanied by Maria Chiara di Giorgio's delicate illustrations encourage empathy and understanding in children, slowly dismantling the stereotype as well as the distance between man and beast.

The Back Matter includes sheets with activities for children and families in the woods, and an explanation of the project. 
A meaningful end note from the Wolf expert who curated the book summarises the importance of Lupinella's story: 

"There's a reason for everything. I repeat this to myself every time I walk into a wood. Since I was a child I have observed Nature with great interest and respect, enchanted by it even when I felt fear. I have always asked myself questions, trying to find the answers, maybe asking mum or dad or my teachers. I learnt that we need to be curious and passionate about nature in order to study and fully understand it. 
We fear everything we don't know, and we want to destroy everything we fear.
I am sure that you will love nature as much as I do, if you will make an effort to understand it.
That's the only way we can protect it. Also thanks to you".

We also must thank the UE for funding his project and for this book.
It's imperative to publish this in English, in Britain in first place as we are sadly taking ourselves out of Europe and out of this type of conservation projects.
Lupinella, la vita di una lupa nei boschi delle Alpi [2018]
Written by Giuseppe Festa
Illustrated by Maria Chiara Di Giorgio
Italian edition published by Editoriale Scienza, in association with Life WolfAlps
Reading age: 6+
Themes: Non-Fiction, animals
Walk with a wolf was first published in English back in 1997, then translated in Italian in 2008 by Editoriale Scienza, the same publisher as Lupinella.
The Italian edition includes a CD with the audiobook and English version, plus the original song written by beloved Nicola Davies.
Walk with a wolf  is also a book celebrating wolves, yet aimed at a younger audience (the recommended age is 5+, although I would restrict it to 4-6).
Award-winning author Janni Howker takes us on a fascinating journey to the far, wild north, to the Yukon territory of north-western Canada: we follow a she-wolf through the seasons as she plays, runs, hunts, eats and sleeps, finally giving birth to her cubs the following spring.
The story is somehow similar to Lupinella as they both are non-fiction books combining an engaging, lyrical narrative to realistic, delicate illustrations, although arranged with a quite different layout and design.
The authors' take in these two books is also slightly different: Giuseppe Festa wants to encourage empathy and connection while Janni Howker focuses more on observation and contemplation.

These books are perfect to introduce children to these magnificent, yet misunderstood, creatures, either they are or are not afraid of them, to show that there is no Big Bad Wolf. Wolves are indeed predators, but they are also so similar to humans in many ways, and they play a key role in their own environment.
Walk with a wolf [1997]
English-language edition published by Walker Books
Written by Janni Howker
Illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies

A spasso con i lupi [2008]
Italian edition published by Editoriale Scienza

Reading age: 3+
Themes: Non-Fiction, animals

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