A departure from Avi's recent sweeping adventure stories (City of Light, City of Dark; Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?), this austere tale set in 1855 tells how the children of Oregon settlers are left to fend for themselves on the frontier. Nine-year-old Ben, the scholar of the family and the narrator here, leaves his Portland boarding school after his widowed father is paralyzed by an attack of palsy. While his older brother and sister work the fields of their farm, Ben looks after his stricken father and laments that his father will not be able to realize his dream of building a barn on their property. As the days go by, Ben becomes more and more convinced that he and his siblings must build the barn themselves. Much of the book (which is illustrated with a few diagrams) recounts the children's step-by-step process of raising a structure that will make their father proud. Only after the enormous undertaking is completed does Ben question the meaning of his labor. Easily read in one sitting, this unembellished story proves to be as intimate as a diary, gracefully revealing its protagonist's keen intelligence, strong determination and secret fear of being separated from his loved ones. Although the novella may not draw as wide an audience as many of the author's previous works, it will gratify those who seek a quiet, contemplative read. Ages 9-11. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/29/1994 Release date: 09/01/1994 Genre: Children's
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