Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron

illus. by Timothy Basil Ering. 176p. bibliog. index. notes. Candlewick. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5669-0. LC 2012943644.
Gr 4–6—Who was the boy found naked in the forest by French villagers in the late 1700s? How had he gotten the scars that lined his body? How old was he? While he appeared to be about 10 years old, he could not tell his own story, because he could not talk. In understated, atmospheric prose, Losure carefully relates the recorded observations of the "men of science" who examined and/or educated the wild boy, finding the evocative details that hinted at his inner life while painting a vivid picture of the misty forests and hilltops the boy would have called home. Smudgy, gestural charcoal drawings accompany the text in this beautifully produced book, depicting the boy's struggles as his (usually) well-meaning captors attempted to domesticate him. Losure is careful not to make any 21st-century conclusions about the boy's condition. While she offers speculation about his early life and how he ended up alone in the woods, she brings up contemporary diagnoses such as Asperger's syndrome only in an author's note. Abundant source notes and a strong bibliography make this lyrical, readable book a wonderful nonfiction choice.—Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, MD
A well-researched true story that will fascinate readers, from the discovery that the wild boy didn’t notice cold to the attempts to teach him to speak and his success learning to spell out words. Mary Losure’s strong, clear narrative is beautifully and sensitively written, and she smoothly incorporates her own well-considered speculations as well as source quotes: “Dr. Itard wrote that he chose . . . the wild boy’s name because in French, the name Victor has an ‘oh’ sound in it . . . and Dr. Itard had noticed that the wild boy seemed to turn his head when he heard people say the sound ‘oh.’ But Dr. Itard may have had another reason, too, for choosing Victor—the hope that someday, the wild boy would live up to his new name.” Timothy Basil Ering’s energetic, sketchy illustrations underscore the rawness of their subject, showing Victor at odds with his city environment. (In the book’s first few illustrations, Ering handles the boy’s wild state with aplomb, accurately but respectfully picturing him nude.) The author’s note discusses the possibility that Victor had autism, making this book a good counterpoint on a subject of current interest. Offers opportunities for classroom discussion on a variety of topics including how Victor was treated and whether it was right for him to be held captive for scientific study, differences in today’s society and medical and scientific communities, kindness and humanity, and the significance of support and respect from others.
The early-nineteenth-century feral child who inspired Truffaut's L'Enfant Sauvage as well as Mordicai Gerstein's YA novel Victor and picture book The Wild Boy (both rev. 11/98) here gets a scrupulously nonfictional account of what is known about his life. The boy was captured in January 1800 in southern France when he was around eleven or twelve. Later brought to Paris and to the attention of doctors and the French government, Victor (so named by one of his few sympathetic guardians, Dr. Itard) eventually learned some "civilized" behaviors, but never learned to speak. Losure documents all the known facts about the boy, from his favorite foods to his bout with smallpox to his fear of heights to his attachment to Dr. Itard's housekeeper, Madame Guerin. Losure is deeply sympathetic toward her subject, but her admirable refusal to fictionalize means that the text frequently turns toward conjecture ("Maybe, sometimes, [Victor] dreamed about a burning stick"), making the book feel somewhat padded ("When he came to the river Seine, perhaps he stopped to look at brightly painted laundry boats"). But the gentle and intimate tone makes Victor's alienation heartbreaking, as do the simple but eloquent black-and-white sketches, one per each short chapter. An author's note, source notes, a bibliography, and an index are incuded. roger sutton

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