WOODSONG

A three-time Newbery Honor winner tells—in a memoir that is even more immediate and compelling than his novels—about his intimate relationship with Minnesota's north woods and the dog team he trained for Alaska's Iditarod.

Beginning with a violent natural incident (a doe killed by wolves) that spurred his own conversion from hunter and trapper to observing habitant of the forest, Paulsen draws a vivid picture of his wilderness life—where bears routinely help themselves to his dog's food and where his fiercely protective bantam adopts a nestful of quail chicks and then terrorizes the household for an entire summer. The incidents he recounts are marvelous. Built of concrete detail, often with a subtext of irony or mystery, they unite in a modest but telling self-portrait of a man who has learned by opening himself to nature—not to idyllic, sentimental nature, but to the harsh, bloody, life-giving real thing. Like nature, the dogs are uncontrollable: independent, wildly individual, yet loyal and dedicated to their task. It takes extraordinary flexibility, courage, and generosity to accept their difficult strengths and make them a team: Paulsen sees humor in their mischief and has learned (almost at the cost of his life) that rigid discipline is irrelevant, even dangerous. This wonderful book concludes with a mesmerizing, day-by-day account of Paulsen's first Iditarod—a thrilling, dangerous journey he was so reluctant to end that he almost turned back within sight of his goal. lt's almost as hard to come to the end of his journal.

This may be Paulsen's best book yet: it should delight and enthrall almost any reader.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0-02-770221-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Bradbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1990

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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THE DARK PORTAL

Popular in England but never before published in America, the first book of Jarvis’s fantasy trilogy depicts an epic battle between good and evil. The side of good is represented by a society of harmonious, quiet-living mice who are aided and abetted by the more spiritual and mysterious bats above. Together they fight the evil, filthy rats, denizens of the dark and slimy sewers, who are ruled by a demonic overlord named Jupiter. The battle begins when a young mouse named Audrey Brown bravely slips between the bars of the basement grate, the portal between the mouse and rat universe, to search for her father, who has met with misadventure and disappeared into the hellish world beneath. As the stakes rise, Jarvis ratchets up the suspense, neatly juggling several story lines that culminate in a remarkable climactic disclosure. He does a good job, especially through the dialogue, of differentiating the multitude of mice, rat, and bat characters that populate the book. Still, the characters lack that elusive quality of lovability that makes the reader care deeply about their fate. Moreover, although the simultaneously symbolic and literal three-tiered world of bats, mice, and rats is well imagined and beautifully detailed, the narrative is rather dense, causing the book’s story engine to flag at several points. Although not right for every reader, Jarvis has delivered a robust book with a big-canvas plot that is tailor made for lovers of fantasy adventure and animal characters. (cast of characters, afterword) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-58717-021-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: NorthSouth

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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