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The Devil's Paintbox

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  433 Ratings  ·  139 Reviews
When almost-16-year-old Aiden Lynch and his little sister, Maddy, first meet trailrider Jefferson J. Jackson, they're eating clay and hunting grasshoppers on the remains of their family's drought-ravaged Kansas farm. In short, the two orphans are starving to death, so when this man Jackson offers an escape—a 2000-mile journey across the roughest country in the world—Aiden ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Ember (first published January 13th 2009)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,038)
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The stunning cover is what initially got me hooked. The guy is in the "in between" (being a man and boy) looking off to what we can't see but we get the feeling he's looking for something to solve all his worries. The backdrop is scenic and makes you feel like you can almost smell the air he's in.

Besides the wonderful cover we have a haunting story. Aiden and his sister Maddy are starved beyond belief (eating mud and grasshoppers) in a drought-ridden Kansas with no family left. It seems like lif
Apr 21, 2015 Annika rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Devil's Paintbox is a book I can't believe I haven't gotten around to reviewing. It is an amazing story. There were moments when I wanted to cry, because there were some losses in the book. :(

But anyway, the writing was beautiful. I could clearly picture everything happening. I am not that fond of Oregon Trail books, but this was so well done it's impossible not to love. There were lots of hard subjects, like death (mostly pertaining to smallpox). But I thought this book was nonetheless a fu
Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Allison Fraclose for

As the only surviving members of their family, 15-year-old Aiden Lynch and his sister, Maddy, have barely made it through the harsh winter alone. Not much remains in their part of Kansas after the flood and the fires, and the two are reduced to living off clay from the river and the occasional grasshopper.

It's been five months since they've seen another human being, so when Jefferson J. Jackson arrives on their land, looking for leftover sodbuster
Given that this is a young adult novel, I was a little surprised at how bleak and depressing it was at times. I thought it was an excellent book and extremely evocative.

When Aiden's decides to follow a man named Jefferson Jackson across America to work for a Seattle lumber camp, his life is changed forever and so is his sister Maddy's. As well as recounting what life was like for those who travelled along the Oregon trail, it also describes Aiden's tentative friendship with Tupic, a young boy of
Gwen the Librarian
Once again, Victoria McKernan has written a gripping historical novel. The Devil's Paintbox tells the story of Aidan and Maddy, two orphans who are on the verge of starvation out on the Kansas prairie when a wagon train comes by and rescues them. Off on the adventure of the Oregon Trail, Aidan and Maddy actually have an easier life than they have ever known before. They have indentured themselves to a logging camp near Seattle to pay their way west. But, of course, the westward journey is fraugh ...more
May 12, 2009 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bleak, epic and heartbreaking, McKernan's novel is excellent historical fiction. After living on grasshoppers in rural Kansas for too long, Aiden and Maddy are brother and sister just hoping to survive. When Jefferson J. Jackson stumbles upon them and invites them to join the wagon train to Oregon, they hop at the chance.

After befriending some Native Americans on the trail, Aidan suffers devastating personal hardships which lead him to become a logger, fighter and drinker.

This well-researched no
Jan 11, 2010 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All that is left of Aiden’s family is his 13-year-old sister Maddy. Alone on the drought stricken Kansas prairie Aiden commits to work one year logging for his passage and an additional year for his sisters on wagon train heading to Seattle. During the journey the teen overcomes dangers and befriends an Indian youth. The story takes an unusual turn when Aiden nears the end of his journey and begins working out his time at the logging camp. There is an underlying account of the terrible toll that ...more
Jul 22, 2010 Alicia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not much for heavy narration and setting details sometimes, even as important as they are in historical fiction, but even though I brushed over some of those chapters, I was drawn to the high-action of other chapters. This story has many layers-- a boy at sixteen, orphaned and caring for his younger sister post-Civil War as pioneers pioneered west. Aidan gets into fights, meets hookers, works for a logging company, aids and abeds Native Americans at a time when they were scum during a time w ...more
Feb 18, 2010 Leila rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not a book for everyone, this book contained a historical "real life" style plot without a very conclusisve ending. Even though it just dropped off, I didn't feel like I was missing anything. It was fascinating to watch Aiden transform from an innocent farmboy to an irresponsible, hardworking adult. It made me sad but this is a true coming-of-age story.
I'd actually give this one a 3.5 and maybe a 4. I tend to shy away from historical fiction, especially those set in the west. This was a quick and interesting read. I think the kids who like the game Oregon Trail will like a story about a brother and sister traveling the trail.
Jan 20, 2009 Debbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical-ya
4 1/2 stars. What an engrossing story to read on a snowy day, or any other day. I didn't want it to end. The devil takes many forms in this novel, not just smallpox. Great cover.
Apr 03, 2016 Jerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I know we aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the photo-realistic artwork alone sold me on the purchase of this title at a recent library conference. And the story inside is just as captivating. Respected writer Victoria McKernan follows up her much lauded "Shackelton's Stowaway" with another historically accurate novel, only this time the setting is the frontier of the American West at the end of the Civil War.
Orphaned siblings Aiden and Maddy Lynch are all that's left of their p
Jan 29, 2015 Bethany rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"'Stop—' Maddy grabbed his arm. Her blue eyes searched his face. We're all right now,' she said quietly. 'We're going to be all right.'"

Well, I do love a great historical story!

The Devil's Paintbox was a great story, about two starved orphaned siblings, Aiden and Maddy, that take the most exciting journey they ever had in their lives.

It all starts when a man by the name of Jefferson J. Jackson picks up starving and orphaned Aiden and Maddy Lynch from their poor home, where they live off of eatin
Aiden, 15, and his sister Maddy, 13, are the only two in their family left--bad luck, illness, and accidents have destroyed siblings and parents on their bleak Kansas homestead. Forced to eat river clay, the two are starving to death, until a man happens out to their homestead looking for strong men to join a wagon train to Seattle and from there work in the lumber camps. Jefferson J. Jackson has a good soul and takes the two teens into his outfit, but they will have to work off their debts in t ...more
Set in 1865, this book is part prairie survival story, part Oregon Trail story and part settling of the Pacific Northwest and all quality historical fiction. Teenagers Aiden and Maddie Lynch are the only survivors of their once numerous family. Their parents tried hard to escape famine in Ireland only to meet more difficulties in America. Now Aiden and Maddie have barely survived a difficult winter and are near death themselves. They make the aquaintance of one Jefferson J. Jackson, a wagon guid ...more
Apr 27, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult
I really liked this book. Aiden and Maddy are the only two remaining members of their family who have not died as a result of an accident or starvation. They are on the brink - eating dirt to stay alive, when one day a man rides up on a horse and offers to take them west over the Oregon Trail in exchange for a year's servitude in the logging business. It's their last hope and they agree. The trek west is filled with adventure - soldiers who have small pox, Native Americans who help guide the wag ...more
Jan 11, 2010 Terri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Review: McKernan is a historian; her first book was”Shackleton’s Stowaway,” which was a fictional account as accurately based on the facts as possible. One of the features of that book was an appendix of what happened to the men of that expedition to Anartica, as the book was based on the actual members of Shackleton’s crew. In “The Devil’s Paintbox,” McKernan does not have real people to weave her story around, but there is evidence of her intensive research into the settlement of the west by t ...more
The Oregon Trail was not just an early 90’s computer game. It was a real path though the country leading folks to dreams of prosperity and hopes for the future. Aiden and Maddie Lynch are two young people on their own. Drought has destroyed their farm, and they are living off of clay, cornmeal, grasshoppers and whatever else they can find. When Jefferson J. Jackson arrives on the scene and offers Aiden and Maddie a chance of a lifetime: to leave the desolation of their farm behind and head West ...more
Mar 04, 2009 Peg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine, natives
McKernan is an historian; her first book was "shackleton's Stowaway,"
which was a fictional account as accurately based on the facts as possible. One of the features of that book was an appendix of what happened to the men of that expedition to Anartica, as the book was based on the actual members of Shackleton's crew. In "The Devil's Paintbox," McKernan does not have real people to weave her story around, but there is evidence of her intensive research into the settlement of the west by the whit
Sharon Hughson
May 10, 2013 Sharon Hughson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
McKernan does a fantastic job writing believable hitorical fiction. Her facts are interwoven seamlessly into the story. Reading this book in the classroom was a perfect opportunity for my middle school students to learn about the Oregon Trail, Nez Perce indians, smallpox epidemics and logging camps in the Northwest.

McKernan's writing offers plenty of opportunities to teach about descriptive writing, plot, conflict, character and theme. Her story is gripping enough to engage most reluctant reader
This was on my to-read list since 2009. This is a really well-written story and action-packed so I would recommend it to any junior high kid who wants a book that really hops along. Aiden and his sister, Maddy, are orphaned in the barren plains of 1865 Kansas. They are thisclose to starving to death. I mean eating clay kind of starving. They are found by one Jefferson J. Jackson who had been led to believe there were grown men in the area who might be interested in joining his wagon train headin ...more
Amy Taylor
Mar 21, 2011 Amy Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spring 1865, Kansas
15 year old Aiden and his younger sister have survived another harsh winter in Kansas, but they are alone. One by one their entire family has died leaving Aiden and Maddie to bury them. Their farm no longer exists, the livestock has died and the crops can’t grow. Everyone who once lived near them has died or fled, Aiden and Maddie haven’t seen another human being in 5 months. Now they are starving to death, forced to eat clay from the creek and hunt grasshoppers. Aiden knows t
This book came highly recommended but by the time I got to the end I decided I didn't really like it. Perhaps this is because it is quite depressing. The premise is excellent. Aidan and Maddy are the only survivors after drought destroys their family farm in Kansas during the 1860s. They are days from starving when they are offered a chance to join a wagon train to Oregon. The trek is long and hard but filled with some very interesting people. On the way they meet a band of Indians and a band of ...more
I started this book back in January, but in the midst of the flurry of interviews I had going on at the time, it got lost in the shuffle.

The Devil's Paintbox is at times beautiful, at times blunt. Sometimes the prose surprised me with novel turns of phrase and unusual metaphor. At other times, the writing was stiff and alienating.

This is the story of Aiden Lynch, and his journey across the United States to Seattle. Aiden has nothing to lose. Most of his family has died from the drought, and he
Dec 03, 2010 Belann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The year is 1865 and Aiden and Maddy are starving on what is left of their drought-stricken farm in Kansas. They are the only survivors of their family, and are now out of food. When Jefferson Jackson shows up on their farm, they are suspicious, but see him as a way out of their situation. Aiden, 16, convinces Jackson to take he and Maddy along with his wagon train in exchange for Aiden's promise of payment of future wages from the logging camp destination to Jackson. The travel in the wagon tra ...more
Janet Frost
This was a great historical fiction. It was set in the West on a wagon train headed for Gold country. 2 young siblings must survive and keep each other safe. Not only does it deal with the hardship of that life, it introduces the issue of small pox in the 1800s. The country is at the cusp of finding a vaccination but this lifesaving vaccine is withheld from the Native American community that is so terribly vulnerable and devastated by the disease. Great interplay of relationships between the whi ...more
Sue Heraper
This action-packed novel set in 1865 will appeal to fans of wilderness survival stories or historical adventures. Teenage siblings Aiden and Maddy are on the verge of starvation in Kansas when they are given the opportunity to join a wagon train traveling west on the Oregon Trail. What happens next is a harrowing journey as Aiden is beset by physical challenges and personal tragedy. Aiden becomes friends with a native his age, Tupic, and there is conflict arising from the tribe’s quest to obtain ...more
This was a well written book and I learned a lot of history from it. I didn't like it. In fact, I wanted to throw it across the room a few times. Twice I closed it determined not to read any more. (I really don't like it when my favorite characters get killed off.) If I was to rate it for TV it would look something like this: LSVD. I also lost interest toward the end. Yes, exciting dramatic stuff was happening, but at that point I knew the outcome would be grim no matter what: "The Indians are d ...more
Nov 30, 2011 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really like historical fiction and when a student was looking for a book in the school library we came across this book. The name was intriguing and there was no description in the book. This book chronicles Aiden as he moves from the midwest to the northwest with his sister. They experience many trials along the way including a tragic loss that Aiden has to confront and deal with for the rest of his journey. Aiden and the wagon confront experience the same trials experienced by those who move ...more
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Victoria McKernan started traveling at the age of eighteen and spent many years working her way around the world, hitchhiking and sailing. She graduated in 1982 from George Washington University with a BA in theatre. Since learning to scuba-dive on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, she has worked as a scuba instructor, underwater model, and divemaster on several ships. She lives in Washington DC wit ...more
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