Age Range: 9 - 12
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Once again, the ever-resourceful Avi (The Bird, the Frog, and the Light, p. 391, etc.) explores new ground. Ben is nine when his teenage sister, Nettie, fetches him from school, where he'd been sent to honor his dead mother's wishes. Their father has had a "palsy" (a stroke), and Ben's help is needed on the 300-acre family claim in Oregon Territory. Ben, intellectually gifted and a natural leader, soon determines the most efficient division of labor: He'll care for Father while Harrison, 13, and Nettie farm. (Some of this stretches credulity: Paralyzed and incontinent, Father requires more lifting than a nine-year-old could credibly manage; and, although Avi suggests the difficulties in one poignant scene, dealing with the necessary laundry is never mentioned.) Desperate to reclaim Father, Ben pins his hopes on the idea that if they can build a barn, as Father had planned, then he will recover. The three children do build a sizable, sturdy barn (without even the traditional help of neighbors, stretching credulity still more). Though the effect of the barn's completion doesn't literally match Ben's dream, it's a gift from the three to their dying father and enables him to give them a gift as well: understanding. Ben's spare narrative is lovingly honed, the interaction of the characters drawn with sensitivity and skill. A small, quiet book that may appeal to perceptive readers. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-531-06861-7
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Orchard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994


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