This story of an Eskimo girl straddling two different cultures is as relevant today as when first written in 1972 by Jean Craighead George. These chapter summaries of her “Julie of the Wolves" book will help you determine if this book is right for a book report, a school project or just a fun read.
PART I: AMAROQ, THE WOLF
A 13-year-old Eskimo girl, Miyax, is lost on Alaska’s tundra during the Arctic summer. She has set up camp near a den of wolves, behind the rise of a frost heave, a buckle in the earth common in the freezing Arctic. Miyax had run away a week earlier and two days ago realized she was lost. She had no North Star to guide her because the sun would not set for another month.
Miyax is hungry. Her food has run out and she realizes she is in danger of starving before she reaches her destination of Point Hope, on her way to stay with her pen pal Amy in San Francisco. Miyax believes she can coax the wolves on the other side of her frost heave to share their meat. Her father, Kapugen, had once told a wolf that he needed food and the next night the wolf left him a freshly killed caribou. But Kapugen didn’t explain how he had talked to the wolf, so Miyax has to figure that out by herself.
Miyax calls the wolf pack’s leader Amaroq, the Eskimo word for wolf. She names the others according to their characteristics. Amaroq’s mate is Silver and his fellow hunter Nails. Amaroq and Silver have five pups, and Miyax names them Kapu (after her father), Sister, and Zing, Zat and Zit. At the bottom of the pack is Jello, who is always told to stay behind to babysit while the other adults go hunting. Miyax makes friends with Kapu and the other pups, but Kapu is her favorite.
Miyax is disappointed when she realizes the pups are being weaned from their mother’s milk and that the wolves are not bringing food back to the den. From her observations of the wolves, Miyax learns how to communicate with them and becomes accepted into the pack. She learns how the adult wolves regurgitate, or heave up, partly digested food for the pups, and with Kapu’s help, Miyax gets Jello to do the same. Miyax finally has food!
But she soon realizes that the wolves will depart when the pups are old enough and winter is on its way. Her source of food will be gone. She knows she must learn to fend for herself. In the meantime, the wolves fell a caribou and after they have eaten their fill, Miyax skins the caribou for the hide and carves off meat to dry over her fire. She makes an underground refrigerator and later catches Jello trying to raid it. Miyax is angry and Jello slinks away. Miyax sees birds beginning to migrate, and one day she wakes up to find the wolves are gone.
1. Why can’t Miyax use the North Star to guide her?
2. How do you think Miyax will find a way to communicate with the wolves?
3. Why do you think Jello is always left behind to babysit the wolf pups?
4. Why do you think Jellow takes Miyax’s food?
PART II: MIYAX, THE GIRL
In the second of the chapter summaries of the Julie of the Wolves book, the wolves are gone, and Miyax gets lost in her memories. Her mother died when Miyax was four years old. In his grief, Kapugen took her from the Mekoryuk, the town they lived in. He left his fine house and well-paying job. Kapugen and Miyax walked all the way to seal camp and lived as Eskimos lived in the past. Kapugen taught Miyax about hunting and fishing and the old ways. They spoke Eskimo.
But in the summer, visitors from Mekoryuk came to seal camp to hunt and fish themselves. Everyone spoke English and her father was very busy. The visitors called her father by his English name, Charlie Edwards. They called Miyax Julie. Her mother had called her Julie, so she didn’t mind until Kapugen called her Julie. She stomped her foot and insisted he call her Miyax, her Eskimo name.
When Miyax was nine years old, her Aunt Martha came to take her back to Mekoryuk because the law said she must go to school. Kapugen was sad, but he had no choice. But, he told her, he would make arrangements for her to marry the son of his friend, Naka. If she was unhappy in Mekoryuk, she could leave and marry Naka’s son, Daniel, when she became a woman at age 13. Naka was an “old-time Eskimo" like Kapugen and believed in the old ways.
Miyax became Julie and lived with Aunt Martha. One day, Aunt Martha told her Kapugen had gone seal hunting and had not come back. His kayak had washed up on shore. Julie grieved and adjusted to her new life. She realized her life at seal camp had been a strange one compared to most Eskimos. Her schoolmates sometimes made fun of her. But a white man from San Francisco asked her if she would be a pen pal to his daughter Amy. Julie looked forward to Amy’s letters and dreamed of visiting her in California.
Julie enjoyed school and learning. She made new friends, but life with Aunt Martha was difficult. She was easily irritated and nagged Julie. She wouldn’t let Julie go out with her friends. One day, a man came to the door and said Naka had written and wanted Julie to come marry his son, now that she was 13. Aunt Martha didn’t like it, but Julie wanted to go. She flew in an airplane to Barrow, where Naka lived with his family. There, Julie met Daniel, the boy she was to marry. She knew immediately “from his grin and dull eyes" that something was not right. She was worried, but Nusan, Naka’s wife, told her Daniel would be like a brother to her and she relaxed. Julie and Daniel married the next day, but they did not live as husband and wife.
Julie settled into her life. She made a friend named Pearl. She helped Nusan sew parkas and mittens for tourists. She did not see Daniel very much over the summer, but one day when she was home alone Daniel came home and said the other boys laughed at him because he couldn’t “mate" his wife. Daniel attacked her, trying to mate with her, but couldn't. He ran out of the house. Julie decided she must leave immediately. Pearl gave her a week’s worth of food and supplies for her walk across the tundra on her way to Point Hope and San Francisco.
1. Why do you think Julie looked forward to Amy’s letters?
2. What does San Francisco represent to Julie?
3. What advice does Julie remember from her father after Daniel attacks her?
PART III: KAPUGEN, THE HUNTER
In the last of the chapter summaries of the “Julie of the Wolves" book, Julie becomes Miyax again. Her memories leave her and she is back on the tundra. The wolves are gone, but Jello has plundered her underground refrigerator. With the little food she had left and winter coming, Miyax knows she has to leave. She takes her direction from the migrating birds. She hears her pack of wolves calling out periodically. During her walk, she feels as if she is being watched, and wakes on the second night to see Jello baring his teeth and growling at her. He steals her backpack with the supplies she needs to survive. In the morning, Miyax circles around, thinking Jello might have dropped her backpack after taking the food. She comes upon Jello lying dead, and she knows Amaroq killed Jello to protect her. She picks up her backpack and walks on.
Miyax uses her supplies to fashion snowshoes. Kapu comes to visit and brings her a caribou leg which she makes into stew and shares with him. Amaroq and his pack save Miyax from a grizzly bear, but now she knows hunting season has begun. She worries for the pack, which has been keeping pace with her. She tries to tell the wolves in their language to stay back and she keeps traveling. Miyax saves a dying bird, who becomes her companion. She names the bird Tornait. As she nears civilization, an airplane carrying hunters flies low overhead, shooting at the wolves. Amaroq dies and Kapu is shot in the shoulder. Miyax hides Kapu from the hunters and nurses him back to health. When he is well, he becomes the leader of the wolf pack and Miyax walks on.
Miyax no longer wants to go to San Francisco. She decides to stay on the tundra and live as an Eskimo. She builds an “ice house." Time passes, and one night Miyax hears the sound of an Eskimo hunter’s sled and meets Roland, whose Eskimo name is Atik, his wife Alice, whose Eskimo name is Uma, and their child. Miyax invites the visitors for dinner. She learns she is near the town of Kangik, and in conversation learns that Atik had learned to hunt from Kapugen, the “greatest of all living Eskimo hunters." Miyax now knows that her father is alive. She decides to go to Kangik to find him.
Miyax finds Kapugen, who is happy to see her. But, she also finds that he has married a white woman and embraced the ways of Americanized Eskimos. Miyax is horrified to find that he no longer hunts in the Eskimo way -- he now has an airplane and flies sportsmen who hunt from the plane. When Kapugen leaves to take care of some business and his wife goes to the kitchen, Miyax decides that Kapugen is dead to her after all, and she leaves to go back to the tundra and live like an Eskimo. On the way back, Miyax realizes Tornait is dying. She tries to save him but is unsuccessful. After she buries Tornait, she sings to the spirit of Amaroq that the hour of the wolf and the Eskimo are over.
Miyax becomes Julie and turns back toward Kangik and Kapugen.
1. What effect does Amaroq’s death have on Miyax’s dream of going to San Francisco?
2. Why do you think the wolves are still watching out for Miyax?
3. Why is Miyax so horrified to learn Kapugen flies hunters in airplanes?
4. Why do you think Miyax became Julie again?
This novel offers a great insight into the Eskimo world and their cultures. Whether used alone, or in a classroom setting, this novel will stay with you long after you put it down.
Julie of the Wolves. Jean Craighead George. 1972