A Friend for Lakota


October is Bullying Prevention Month. Unfortunately, most books about bullying are so on the nose and hit kids over the head with the message. And they all have some variation of the same lesson: bullying is bad; be better than the bully.

Enter A Friend for Lakota from National Geographic Kids, which presents an anti-bullying message couched in a wildlife tale. The authors – Jim and Jamie Dutcher – spent six years living in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, following a pack of wolves and documenting rarely seen social behaviors.

They’ve since started Living with Wolves, a non-profit dedicated to raising “public awareness of the truth about wolves, their social nature, their importance to healthy ecosystems, and the threats to their survival.”

The Dutchers have made several documentaries and written several books about the wolves they “adopted.” A Friend for Lakota is their first children’s book on the subject.

Photo Oct 18, 2 32 21 PMThe story follows young Lakota, a wolf pup in a pack of five, as he grows up with the rest of his pack. Kamots becomes the alpha male, Amani is the troublemaker, Matsi is the peace-keeper, and Lakota is the timid member of the group.

Along with gorgeous photos, we follow the pack through a winter and see as Lakota gets treated as the “runt of the litter.” The other wolves fight and bite him, but Lakota never fights back. He just slinks away.

It isn’t until his brother Matsi interferes and fights off the attackers that Lakota is left alone. Lakota and Matsi become close, and Lakota’s self-confidence soon grows.

I will admit that the bullying tale seems a little pasted-on and artificial in this context. I’m not an expert on wolf behavior, but it seems like this might be a common occurrence among animals that live in groups dominated by an alpha male. The weakest member of the group gets “picked on” by stronger members as they prepare to hunt and live on their own.

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I’m not sure this is bullying, exactly. A comparison can certainly be made to human behavior, but it’s not really a direct correlation. Nevertheless, this story does emphasize the importance of friendship and standing up for what’s right. It can be a wonderful conversation starter with younger kids about how to react when they witness (or encounter) bullying.

However, kids for whom bullying is an everyday occurrence will likely not appreciate the similarities between Lakota’s experiences and their own as they’re not substantial enough to truly make this story meaningful. In other words, Lakota isn’t bullied. Lakota is a wolf who experiences natural wolf behavior.

Like most National Geographic books, though, the photographs are fantastic. Nearly all are photos the Dutchers took of the actual wolf pack they followed. The book also includes facts about gray wolves, a note from the authors about their experiences living with the wolves, and related resources.

Interestingly, the resources include National Geographic websites and books about wolves, along with places in the United States (mostly zoos) where you can see wolves. However, for a book that is ostensibly about bullying, there are no resources for that subject. It would’ve been nice to see some anti-bullying or bullying prevention resources included.

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Jamie is a publishing/book nerd who makes a living by wrangling words together into some sense of coherence. He's the founder and owner of The Roarbots and also a contributor to Syfy Wire, StarWars.com, and GeekDad. On top of that, he hosts The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, which celebrates creativity in popular culture, science, and technology by talking to a wide variety of people who contribute to it.