12-year-old Robbie Trent captures and raises a wolfdog pup, and the grow up and learn from each other as friends in the northwestern United States of the 19th century. Robbie grows up on a farm in the northwest, an only child to his parents. As such, he learns much about farm life from his daily chores, and about science and learning from his nearby uncle Kumlien. He does well in school at the town's one-room schoolhouse, and knowing he is capable, his parents place high importance on his doing well.
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When he finds out a nearby female wolf will have pups that are half wolf and half dog, he knows he must have one. A rival village boy, Bubs, also desperately wants to lay hands on one. By bargaining with his father, Robbie earns a little money of his own through trapping and buys a day off farm chores on a few occasions. This first day or two he spends finding out how to get close to the mother wolf and tracking her down. The final day, he goes with several other of the town's men to find her pups. They When they reach her cave, Robbie makes a deal with them: He will go down and bring up the pups if he can have one of them. He succeeds, but there is only one pup to bring up. It is his, much to the chagrin of the others present.
As Wolf grows, the relationship between him and Robbie develops. The Wolfling understands that Robbie is his friend no matter what. Robbie also enlists the help of his father's sheepdog to teach Wolf to behave around farm animals - a major source of concern for Robbie's father, who is quite skeptical about the whole affair. As the two grow, Robbie's relationship with two other people also develops. He becomes close to a girl named Inga, an intelligent girl in his grade (though their relationship does not go beyond a few kisses by the end of the book, when both are about thirteen and a half). His rivalry with Bubs (also in their grade) becomes more fierce. Bubs is not very intelligent, but does hunt and ride horses. Bubs can also be a bit of a bully: He steals Robbie's traps surreptitiously on at least one occasion, and provokes a horse belonging to Robbie's father when Robbie is driving it.
Robbie knows Bubs will ride in the 4th of July horse race, and decides he must enter to prove himself against Bubs. He begins practicing with Wolf by his side. Eventually, this affects his schoolwork. His teacher notices and discusses it with him. When Inga and his parents find out, they encourage him to focus on schoolwork, also. They figure out that this is an issue of pride, a matter of proving that he is as good as Bubs. They point out that Bubs isn't good in school, and may feel inferior because of it. Therefore, by continuing to go to school and doing well academically, he can more effectively prove his superiority to Bubs. Robbie is still set on competing.
When the race comes, Bubs wins and Robbie comes in second, again with Wolf at his side, but the way in which Bubs wins is unsportsmanlike. The audience makes it clear that Robbie is the rider they value more, in spite of his placement behind Bubs. Inga and Robbie spend time afterwards, and it is decided by now that they will both go to high school together the following year in a nearby city. Both have just finished seventh grade, but are smart enough to pass their eighth grade exams a year early. Inga has already passed hers, but knows Robbie will score even higher. They also plan to raise tobacco, a typically lucrative late-19th century summer crop of the region, to help them pay for their schooling the following year.
Best part of story, including ending:
Robbie and Wolf learn a lot from each other. Robbie is also intelligent, resourceful, and determined and his parents, teacher, and friends try to support him in school.
Best scene in story:
When Bubs wins the race in an unsportsmanlike way, the crowd cheers on Robbie, demonstrating that while Bubs obtained what he wanted on the surface, what Robbie received through second place was much more valuable.
Opinion about the main character:
Robbie is intelligent, resourceful, and determined. When he sets a goal for himself, he finds a way to make it happen.