The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron
by Mary Losure
illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
Candlewick Press, 2013
Middle Grade Nonfiction
Grades 3 and up
Reviewed from purchased copy.
ABOUT THE BOOK
What happens when society finds a wild boy alone in the woods and tries to civilize him? A true story from the author of The Fairy Ring.
One day in 1798, woodsmen in southern France returned from the forest having captured a naked boy. He had been running wild, digging for food, and was covered with scars. In the village square, people gathered around, gaping and jabbering in words the boy didn’t understand. And so began the curious public life of the boy known as the Savage of Aveyron, whose journey took him all the way to Paris. Though the wild boy’s world was forever changed, some things stayed the same: sometimes, when the mountain winds blew, "he looked up at the sky, made sounds deep in his throat, and gave great bursts of laughter." In a moving work of narrative nonfiction that reads like a novel, Mary Losure invests another compelling story from history with vivid and arresting new life.
This book kind of broke my heart. The story revolves around a boy who grew up in a forest by himself, naked and alone. Somehow he had learned to survive, but it wasn't an easy process judging by the scars on his body. That in and of itself is heartbreaking, but what really got to me was the way most of the people he met treated him. The first time he was captured he was put on display like some sort of animal. The second time he stayed with a widow who it seemed treated him fairly well, but he escaped again and ended up at a school in Rodaz where he was basically a science experiment. He was lucky in that his caretaker treated him well, but no one else did. Finally he ended up at a school for deaf/mute children in Paris. There he met Madame Guerin who loved him and helped take care of him. But even his instructor, Dr. Itard didn't bother trying to understand where he was coming from and focused solely on humanizing him. He seems to never have learned to speak, whether this is because he couldn't or simply that no one found a way that worked for him is sad. Even more so is the fact that no one bothered to try sign language, despite his clear inclinations in that direction. He escaped one more time but there was no going back to way things were and he ended up spending the rest of his life with Madame Guerin in relative freedom. An interesting and emotional story told simply and tenderly.
From a slightly more objective point of view, the author does a great job of telling Victor's story. She makes it clear where there are holes and so much that we simply can't know because nobody bothered to record anything. She quotes from those who did record their experiences and impressions of the boy which helps bring the story to life. The writing is simple and straight-forward, which makes the story flow nicely. A beautifully told story about a young man who lived a life so very different than most of us can even imagine. Highly recommended.
Check out some other great nonfiction reads, here.