A tender and mischievous invitation to pause and ask, as Mary Oliver did: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
“All good things are wild and free,” Thoreau wrote in his terrific treatise on walking. More than 150 years later, Hawaiian-born, British-based illustrator Emily Hughes makes an imaginative 21st-century case for this in Wild (public library | IndieBound) — an irreverent, charming, and oh-so-delightfully illustrated story, partway between Kipling’s The Jungle Book and Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
The story opens with a joyful and carefree little girl native to the woods, raised by the creatures of the whole forest. She is boundlessly, ebulliently wild, and wholly unashamed of her wildness.
Bird taught her to speak.
Bear taught her how to eat.
Fox taught her how to play.
And she understood, and was happy.
One day, two creatures who look an awful lot like her, only bigger, appear out of nowhere, put her in the belly of their metal beast, and hurl her into a wholly different new life — a civilized one.
Off in the big city, a somewhat well-meaning but rather dictatorial elderly couple sets out to de-wild her. “FAMED PSYCHIATRIST TAKES IN FERAL CHILD,” a newspaper headline proclaims.
The little girl is frightened, but mostly perplexed.
They spoke wrong.
They ate wrong.
They played wrong.
And she did not understand, and she was not happy.
One day, she has had enough.
Because you cannot tame something so happily wild…
Emanating from the playful and poetic story is a clarion call to shake off the external should’s that shackle us and stop keeping ourselves small by trying to please others, to celebrate what John Steinbeck called “the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected”. It is an invitation, at once tender and mischievous, to pause and ask, as Mary Oliver memorably did: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Wild is one of the loveliest and most endearing picture-books I’ve seen this side of the century and comes from British indie publisher Flying Eye Books, unending source of treasures like Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds, Monsters & Legends, Shackleton’s Journey, Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, and Hug Me.
Illustrations courtesy of Flying Eye Books / Emily Hughes; photographs my own