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The Devil's Paintbox
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The Devil's Paintbox

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  470 Ratings  ·  147 Reviews
When orphans Aiden and Maddy Lynch first meet trailrider Jefferson J. Jackson in the spring of 1865, they’re struggling to survive on their family’s drought-ravaged Kansas farm. So when Jackson offers an escape—a 2000-mile journey across the roughest country in the world—Aiden knows it’s their only choice.

They say there are a hundred ways to die on the Oregon Tra
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published January 13th 2009 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
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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
Nov 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Koalathebear Koalathebear
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
Mar 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 20, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
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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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