Originally written for his young daughter Josephine, who died tragically aged six, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is a collection of short stories which were published separately in magazines before being compiled into a book.
The stories are in the form of fables, where animals communicate and speak to each other as humans do and the purpose of each story was to convey a moral or message to the reader.
Modern readers would be more familiar with the Disney animated version in which Mowgli the little “man-cub” is raised by wolves. As he grows, he is trained by denizens of the jungle like Bagheera the panther, Baloo the bear and Kaa the snake. The dreaded tiger Sher Khan is a diabolical villain, feared by all. However, the book is quite different from the Disney film which tends to romanticize some of the characters and demonize others! The original Jungle Book includes the delightful Riki Tiki Tavi tales about a valiant and clever mongoose who protects his friends from the dangerous snakes of the jungle. Contrary to the film version again, only a few of the stories are about Mowgli.
What strikes the reader is the sense of wonder and magic that Kipling evokes in these stories about the mysterious jungle and its inhabitants. The writer's brilliant skills with the English language are another feature that makes the book such a reading pleasure. Interspersed with delightful poems, this is indeed the perfect choice for a read-aloud with your kids!
First published in book form in 1894, the original edition contained beautiful illustrations by Rudyard's father, John Lockwood Kipling, an artist and art teacher who spent much of his career in India. It was here that Kipling first heard Indian folk tales and was inspired to recreate his versions of them for his own children. The Jungle Book also gained a great reputation for being a “moral story” and Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts movement requested permission from Kipling to use many of the book's situations and characters as motivational resources. The leader of a Scout pack was dubbed “Akela” after the warrior wolf of the Free People as wolves are called in the Jungle Book.
Kipling was a journalist who covered several wars like the Boer War in South Africa. His extensive body of work includes the famous Just So Stories, Kim and several volumes of short stories, articles, essays and poetry. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 and till date, remains the youngest to have won the prestigious award. Today, though his reputation stands dimmed as he is seen as one of the “prophets of Imperialism” the magic of his words cannot be denied.
The Jungle Book is a classic that indeed belongs on every bookshelf!