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Book Review

This review was created by the editorial staff at Thriving Family magazine

This historical fiction novel by Jean Van Leeuwen is published by Puffin Books, a division of the Penguin Young Readers Group, and is written for kids ages 9 to 11. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Eleven-year-old Daniel Griffith and his 9-year-old brother, Will, journey to the woods of Ohio with their pa in late summer, 1803. They help Pa build a rough log cabin before Pa returns to Pennsylvania to collect the rest of the family. He promises to return in five or six weeks. The boys busy themselves patching up holes in the cabin, chopping wood, collecting nuts for winter and learning to fish. Weeks pass, then months, with no sign of Pa or the family. Daniel, whom Pa has left in charge, begins to wonder how the boys will survive a harsh winter alone.

The boys learn to think critically and use ingenuity to overcome their difficult circumstances. They meet an old Indian named Solomon, who teaches them to pay close attention to nature and avoid danger. Solomon leaves before winter, but Daniel and Will incorporate his lessons into their lives. They learn to create snares and spears to catch food, use skins and plants to sew warm winter clothing and find their way back home when they get lost. Wolves kill a deer outside of their cabin, leaving the boys a fair amount of meat for the cold, intense winter. They use wood and some of the deer skin to fashion snowshoes so they can leave the cabin even in waist-deep snow.

Solomon returns in the spring. He's impressed with what the boys have accomplished and visits occasionally to teach them more. He tells the boys he had returned to his old home where he saw the damage and killing white men had done. With a sad heart, he decides to go find the remnant of his people.

Again, the boys are alone. It is April, and they decide they should prepare to plant crops. They undertake the arduous task of clearing trees for a field. One day, as they take a break to gather some herbs, they encounter a bear. Will tries to escape by climbing a tree, but the bear comes after him. In an effort to save his brother, Daniel throws his bucket of herbs at the bear, angering it. It attacks and badly injures Daniel before Will manages to wound it with his homemade fishing spear.

Over many days, Will nurses Daniel back to health, treating his wounds with plants Ma had used and Solomon had once pointed out. By June, Daniel has healed and the boys have cleared enough land to plant a crop. They're preparing to begin when they hear the voice of their brother Zeke. The rest of their family is close behind. They explain that illness prevented them from coming sooner. The boys' parents are proud and impressed by the way their sons have managed themselves and have created a home during their long months alone. The family enjoys a reunion dinner and decides to begin planting the next day.

Christian Beliefs

Solomon was given a biblical name because he was at a mission as a baby. The only book Daniel's family owns is a Bible. While the boys are stuck inside during cold winter months, they tell each other Bible stories they remember. They have heard them so many times, they know them by heart. They tell each other about Noah, Joseph, Moses and many others, trying to repeat them the same way Ma always had. Several Bible stories are briefly retold in the text, including the story of Daniel. Will recounts this story after his brother is attacked by a bear, making the Bible character sound like the hero of the tale. Daniel acknowledges God is the hero in the real Bible story, but Daniel thinks Will may be trying to say something about his brother's bravery during the bear attack. The boys also write down some important phrases and math equations they've learned, including verses about Adam and Zaccheus. Ma and Pa praise God that their sons are alive.

Other Belief Systems

None

Authority Roles

Pa isn't an affectionate or expressive man, but he tells his sons stories and has provided wise insights that help them survive alone in the wild. The boys often remember his words about carefully thinking things through when they have a problem. Ma has frequently read them Bible stories. Both parents express great pride in their sons' abilities to survive without them. Solomon teaches the boys many useful skills. He urges them to see and hear the minutia in nature and pay close attention to their surroundings.

Profanity/Violence

A bear attacks Daniel and Will. A couple of young men Daniel meets at the mill call the Indian people "varmints." They brag about how their father killed many and drove others out of the country.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

None

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • What are some valuable lessons the boys have learned from their parents?
  • How do these insights help them even when the Pa is gone?
  • What are some valuable lessons the boys learn from Solomon?
  • How do these insights help them even when the Indian is gone?
  • Why is it important to remain teachable?

  • What qualities do Daniel and Will possess that help them survive for so long without their parents?

  • How do they change and grow during their time alone?
  • How long could you survive in the wilderness?
  • How might you learn what you needed to know to survive?
  • If you were Daniel or Will, what would you have done differently to survive the winter?

  • Why do Daniel and Will tell each other Bible stories?

  • How do these stories encourage them in their difficult circumstances?
  • How has a Bible story encouraged you during a difficult time?

  • How do Will and Daniel feel when their parents show their pride in what the boys have done with the farm?

  • Why is it important to praise, thank or show appreciation to others?
  • To whom can you show some sincere appreciation today?

Additional Comments/Notes

Author Jean Van Leeuwen has written over 40 books, many dealing with American history. This story is based on an actual account from Ohio history, recorded in a book called Historical Collections of Ohio by Henry Howe.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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