Into the Jungle by Katherine Rundell is a collection of short stories that serves as a companion to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. Mowgli’s ravenous appetite for stories takes him all over the jungle, seeking out his animal friends who relay to him tales from their past.
One thing that is immediately apparent is the volume’s intention to imbue these classic characters with modern sensibilities. Across each of the stories is a common theme of unity inspired by diversity. The law of the Jungle, the segregation of animal species via the food chain, has always played a role in most incarnations of Kipling’s creation, but Rundell does a wonderful job of turning it on its head.
Often in the stories, the animals, both big and small, play to each other’s strengths rather than prey on each other’s weaknesses. Additionally, Mowgli’s wolf mother Rashka plays a prominent part, balancing out the roster of usual suspects like Baloo, Bagheera and Kaa with a strong female character. All in all, this is a thoroughly up-to-date Jungle Book with the sort of positive representation young kids need to be exposed to.
Rundell’s prose has a lovely storytelling quality to it, making Into the Jungle an excellent book for an adult to read to a child. Not only that, there are some gorgeous illustrations courtesy of Kristjana S Williams which perfectly encapsulate that classic children’s book aesthetic. While the Jungle Book will always remain a juggernaut of popular culture, I would argue it’s never looked or read better than it does here.