Title: First Friend, How Dogs Evolved from Wolves to Become Our Best Friends
Author: Kersten Hamilton
Illustrator: Jaime Kim
Publisher: Farrar Strauss Giroux, Feb. 9th 2021
Genre: narrative nonfiction
Themes: dogs, evolution, wolves, best friends, pets, nomads, stone age,
Long, long ago when
nomads who hunted through Europe and Asia
fought lean, hungry wolves for their prey.
First Friend is an exploration of how the wild wolves became dogs, and how we learned to communicate and grow alongside the creatures we love. How did dogs become our best friends? This picture book uses a nonfiction narrative format to explain to kids how wolves evolved into dogs. The story begins in the Stone Age. A young girl and wolf pup meet and play but once they both grow up, their friendship must end, for humans and wolves are rivals hunting the same prey. Many, many years pass and a young boy living in a hut meets a wolf pup. They interact more closely with the boy scratching the pup and sharing his food, but like the girl, the relationship does not last although the pair watch each other from afar. Over time, more children and wolf pups befriend each other. Their relationship evolves to something more intimate; trading items, drinking from the same water hole, sleeping side by side, and finally, traveling together to a new home.
Long, long ago, when the world was new…a girl met a pup.
Why I like this book:
I think this is my favorite new picture book so far this year. The word choice is lyrical and cyclical with just the perfect amount of repetition. The illustrations are luminous. The text and illustrations feel so beautifully crafted and matched. Kids will join in the refrain, which seamlessly transitions us through human epochs. Thus the text tells two parallel stories, the evolution of wolf to dog and the evolution of homo sapiens.
The sun went down, the world turned around, and years and years went by.
In those early homo sapiens days, everyone knew that wolves and children could not be friends. Still, they learned from each other—how to hunt, how to trade, how to survive, how to play. And years and years went by, (agin and again) and the world spun and changed. Over millennia, the human communities evolved from a nomadic hunting lifestyle to a more sedentary one, at which point, a boy fished with a wolf, and a girl traded with a wild dog, and animal and human grew up side by side. . .into the best friends we are today.
This is a delight to read to oneself or aloud. The text is melodic and poetic and you practically sing the story. The illustrations evoke distant times, and transition, and family and partnership, and truly add layers to the lovely narrative. Check out how the wolf’s den mimics the human dwellings on this page:
I adore the last page spread also, which is now in present times, and a beagle puppy and a little girl run toward one another full of anticipation and love. As you can imagine, the endpapers are a delight too. The front endpapers show cave art and the back endpapers childish chalk drawings of a pup and his girl.
I can’t imagine a child who won’t love this, especially as the author carefully centers this story more around children building up the relationship with the wolves rather than adult humans domesticating them. It made the relationship between them feel more realistic.
At the end of the book, back matter includes more facts about the wolves’ progression from competitor to companion as well as a select bibliography. This is a great classroom read when looking at human and animal evolution, and a great gift to a child before getting their first (rescue) pup!
I would definitely have older elementary children write stories about a child and a wolf pup, taking care to set them in the context of the historical time.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.