Twilight has brought werewolves into vogue, but the stories have been around for a very long time. For Hallowe’en, for something to capture the attention of your reluctant readers, or just for fun, why not include some shapeshifter tales in your lit lessons?
We don’t really have any favorite werewolf books for young children, though we’d mention Daniel Pinkwater’s The Werewolf Club books if pressed. We have a lot of favorites for upper elementary and older, though:
- The Weeping Werewolf by the awesome Bruce Coville is great for upper elementary.
- Curse of the Full Moon: A Werewolf Anthology is just the thing for high school classes. With stories by Ursula LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, Harlan Ellison, Tanith Lee, and many more who may be familiar to your students, this makes a good transition from juvenile to adult fiction. Read stories first before sharing with your class, and consider reading them aloud.
- Beasts and Super-Beasts has a couple of wonderfully eerie werewolf tales from H.H. Munro, an underappreciated author your students will probably like. While the stories are quite creepy, they have no questionable language, graphic violence, or sexual overtones.
- Terry Pratchett’s The Fifth Elephant combines folklore and social commentary into a gripping tale pitting humans, wolves, vampires, werewolves, trolls, and dwarfs in complex political conflict. Students who read this novel may be encouraged to read the rest of the series and learn to read for pleasure.
- Traditional werewolf folklore make an interesting contrast with the fiction based on the mythology.
- The Book Of Were-Wolves by Sabine Baring-Gould is a classic work of nonfiction examining the folklore of werewolves. Baring-Gould, who wrote the words to “Onward Christian Soldiers,” was one of the most important experts on werewolf lore of his day, and is still considered one of the more important researchers.
Have students read one or more of these werewolf stories, and perhaps watch some werewolf movies, such as American Werewolf in London or The Wolf Man. Discuss the following questions:
- What are the characteristics of werewolves?
- How do werewolves in traditional werewolf mythology differ from those in modern werewolf fiction?
- What is the usual structure of a werewolf story?
Werewolves are just one example of shape-shifting creatures. Rudyard Kipling’s The Mark of the Beast is about a were-leopard, East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a fairy tale about a were-bear, The Great Selkie is a ballad about a were-seal, and weretigers are well known in Asian mythology. Include some other shapeshifters in your study, too.
Once students have examined the genre, challenge them to write their own werewolf (or other werebeast) stories.