Sunny Weber’s middle grade novel, From Wild to Mild, is the delightful, unique coming-of-age story of an Australian Shepherd named Kaya.
Narrated in Kaya’s clear, reflective voice and illustrated in endearing black-and-white pencil sketches, the novel begins when coyote Maka kidnaps Kaya and brings her to his family’s den to be eaten. Taina, his mate and the mother of his puppies, Flower and Gopher, forbids Kaya’s killing and instead welcomes Kaya into their family. Taina, Flower, and Gopher teach Kaya coyote survival skills, and intense love develops between them — except for Maka, who belittles Kaya because her dog instincts prevent her from hunting nocturnally and killing prey.
Kaya struggles for two years to become a coyote. Unable to deny her true nature any longer, she realizes she must find belonging elsewhere. Unexpectedly, Kaya’s universe upends again when she’s caught in a trap, rescued by animal aid workers, and brought to live on a farm with its owner, Laurie, and a friendly community of farm animals.
Kaya’s task is to tame her wild skittishness and recognize her purpose in a place where she’s accepted and loved for whom and what she is. Farm life for Kaya becomes joyously rewarding, and her chronicle is an outstanding illustration of tenacity, loyalty, and integrity for middle-grade readers.
From Wild to Mild is an accomplished narrative written in elegant prose (e.g, “The sky was clear, and just a few poofy purple clouds floated, dotted with black birds as they headed home to their sleeping roosts.”) There are times, however, when complex diction (e.g. “tornadic wrestling”) and a Spanish-speaking character’s dialogue may be too advanced for younger readers. This refinement, though, lends the novel a cross-generational appeal.
Ultimately, Kaya’s story will resonate in different ways, depending on a reader’s age. Her loveliness and spunk — and the novel’s emphasis on familial love— are perfectly suited to be shared between parent and child and read at any phase of life.
Also available as an ebook.