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Jungle Book, The: Reviewed

Author:Rudyard Kipling
Illustrator:Jerry Pinkney
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 8 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Year of publication:1894

"At this point, reading pretty much any book is very easy for me. So what's important to me is how the book is written and what it's about," my 11 year old said to me recently.

"Then what about The Jungle Book? Did you find that easy to read?"

"Well, no, actually. It was very hard. But beautiful."

Rudyard Kipling's century-old story may be the perfect book for advanced but very young readers to tackle. The plot is involving, the characters -- people and animals -- think and act like individuals you might have met. But what's truly captivating about the book is the language Kipling uses.

My daughter's only misgiving about the book: It's clear that Kipling does not hold monkeys in high regard. Unlike people who do not even know of the Law of the Jungle, monkeys know of the Law, but refuse to submit to it. Monkeys are dear daughter's favorite animals. She will need to write her own book, in which they state their reasons for their recalcitrance.

In terms of the monkeys and the plot in general, it turns out that Disney's animated movie, Jungle Book, stays pretty close to the original book. And it's got some wonderful music and voices as well. Too bad I won't be recommending anything Disney for the next year or so.

Anyway, this book is better than any movie.

The hardcover to which this review links also includes the stirring story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a very brave little mongoose.

There are many thees and thous in Jungle Book, which make parsing some sentences challenging. But the ideas described in these complicated sentences and long chapters (each one a tale that pretty much stands on its own) are thrilling.

For example, one chapter tells how Mowgli, the wolf boy, organizes his pack to stop the marauding gang of over 200 dholes, red dogs, which threaten to stampede through the jungle, ripping every animal they come upon to shreds. There is much blood shed, unavoidable bloodshed, and Akela, who led the wolf pack when it adopted Mowgli, is mortally wounded:

"Said I not it would be my last fight?" Akela gasped. "It is good hunting. And thou, Little Brother?"

"I live, having killed many." [responds Mowgli]

"Even so, I die..."
"So why does he say 'Good hunting' if he's dying?" my daughter asks? (Dear daughter was prepared for this death, although she is very sad about it. Akela is old and prepared to die.)

Well, in the book, 'Good hunting' is a greeting, like, 'Shalom' that means both 'hello' and 'good bye'. And also, Mowgli's plan has succeeded, so it has been good hunting, even though Akela was mortally wounded. And also, it is the wolf's way to kill and be killed, in accordance with the Law of the Jungle. So many layers of meaning expressed in just a very few words!

This chapter, like all of them, beautifully shows the power of that Law. You kill only when you have been gravely wronged. You make sure bullies do not harm you or those for whom you are responsible. But you don't act out of malice or greed, and you act in concert with your friends and brothers.

Highly recommended for advanced young readers.

-- Emily Berk

Other reviews: Jungle Book, The
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