CROWS & CARDS by Joseph Helgerson


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Age Range: 8 - 12
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It’s 1849, and “twelve-year-olds don’t have much bargaining power,” so Zebulon Crabtree finds himself shipped off to his great-uncle Seth in St. Louis to be a tanner’s apprentice. He doesn’t quite get there, however, and ends up a gambler’s apprentice instead, practicing fake shuffles, false cuts and dealing seconds, and even using a peephole and telegraph wire to signal his mentor, Chilly Larpenteur. Trouble is, Zeb has a conscience and knows he must extricate himself from his apprenticeship and give up the idea of becoming a riverboat gambler. Inspired by Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, Helgerson’s folksy and chatty tale is also reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn in Zeb’s struggles with his conscience and its themes of slavery and freedom. Fifty-plus pages of backmatter seem excessive, though the afterword is interesting in its discussion of apprenticeships, Native Americans, slavery and traveling medicine shows. An enjoyable romp in the spirit of Twain. (bibliography, glossary) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 6th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-618-88395-0
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2009


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