My oldest grandson Philip (age 10, the same age as Willy, the protagonist of this very short kid's chapter book) is an avid reader who reads above graMy oldest grandson Philip (age 10, the same age as Willy, the protagonist of this very short kid's chapter book) is an avid reader who reads above grade level, an interest I obviously encourage. He recently read this book himself, and was excited about it enough to want to share his copy so I could read it too. Being about to be between books anyway, and being interested in connecting with him in a shared reading experience, I agreed. It proved to be a very quick read --an adult could read it inside of a half hour. (It has 81 pages, but they're small pages with relatively large text and wide margins, and lots of black-and-white illustrations, this 30th anniversary edition reproducing the original ones by Marcia Sewall.
The deceptively simple but extremely emotionally evocative story was suggested to Gardiner by an actual legend handed down in the area, though vague on names and dates (no date is given in the book, though the details suggest the late 19th century). Jackson, Wyoming is a real town and the annual sled dog race depicted here is also a real event (it was apparently the precursor of today's International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race, though the modern race covers a much wider area in two states). Gardiner tells his story with skill, and with an economy of words. His vocabulary and diction should be well within the command of intelligent middle school kids, but the style doesn't have a feeling of being condescending. The characters are easy to like and care about, the stakes in the conflict are high, and the narrative pace perfect for sustaining tension. As short as the book is, it won't bore adult readers; I responded to the story-line basically the same way any reader, young or old, would.
In some ways, the premise here is similar to that of the later Disney movie for adults, Iron Will, though the two story-lines and the settings and exact circumstances are different. The idea that Willy's beloved 10-year-old sled dog Searchlight could be a serious contender in a race like this isn't implausible; Gardiner ably brings out the facts that she was extremely fast and that both dog and boy knew the course well and ran it frequently, while he also makes the points that a one dog sled is lighter and less awkward to handle than the more cumbersome outfits of the adult mushers and their teams. It's impossible to fully understand the emotional impact of the book without a spoiler. (view spoiler)[Searchlight dies near the finish line, her heart failing her at last from the exertion --though the result lifts the story into something other than pointless tragedy. (hide spoiler)] There are those who wouldn't favor letting kids read this, and would brand it as part of "the Marquis de Sade school of children's literature." It was hard for me to take, and I'm 63! But it might also be said that constantly shielding children from the reality of tragedy in the world may produce children (and later, adults) who don't handle the reality of a tragic world very well....more
I ran across a Goodreads First Readers giveaway for this book, and was intriguied by the premise: kid discovers that lycanthropy runs in his family (tI ran across a Goodreads First Readers giveaway for this book, and was intriguied by the premise: kid discovers that lycanthropy runs in his family (this has been done before --and vastly better!-- in the drama form in various movies and TV specials, some of them also aimed at pre-teens). Knowing it was a children's book, I didn't expect a lot of depth; but I did expect it to be a reasonably well-written book for its age bracket, that I could at least like --after all, I was an Are You Afraid of the Dark? fan (as an adult!) in the 90s. (Okay, there wasn't much supernatural fare on TV back then!) But alas, when I unexpectedly won a copy of the book, even that modest expectation was destined to be dashed. :-( If I didn't feel a sense of obligation to review it, I'd never have even bothered to finish it.
This is the kind of self-published book that gives self-publishing a bad name, and the kind of children's book written by people who don't respect the intelligence or taste of children --who think the latter can't tell the difference between a well-crafted story and a helping of thrown-together swill served up with no thought or effort. (If the discernment of today's nine-year-olds actually IS that poor, we as a nation are in even worse shape than I've imagined!) At just 57 pages (with very large type), this isn't long enough to develop as a chapter book, though nine-year-olds are normally getting into chapter reads. The storyline is thin, and the characters cardboard; there's no development of setting (indeed, the geographical settings aren't even specified, although middle-grade readers can and do appreciate a defined setting); and the denouement is so far-fetched that it would have destroyed any chance for suspension of disbelief if I'd read it when I was five, let alone nine. On top of this, Ryans' execution is unbelievably slipshod. She clearly didn't even attempt to proofread, or even to pay attention as she was writing; while the book is mainly written in first person, she often disconcertingly drops into third person (sometimes in the next sentence!), in what appears to be simply heedless carelessness as to what person she's using. We don't learn that Carson is nine until p. 8, or that James and Jenny are his cousins until p. 34(!). The dream sequence appears to have no other function than to confuse the reader. Ryans seemingly never heard of the injunction, "show, don't tell;" and the intended message is stated explicitly with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Even though it's April 1, my review of this disaster unfortunately isn't an April Fool's joke. :-( Don't waste time or money on this!...more