Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Paulsen revisits the terrain of various autobiographical writings (Father Water, Mother Woods; Eastern Sun, Winter Moon; and sections of My Life in Dog Years) for this affecting story of a pivotal summer. The 14-year-old protagonist, who is named only as "the boy," has been sliding slowly toward trouble--nearly flunking school, working odd jobs early in the morning and late at night, and sleeping near the furnace to avoid his perpetually drunk parents. So when the boy receives a letter from his grandmother Alida, asking that he come work on the farm, owned by two Norwegian brothers where she is employed as a cook, he is quick to accept. Paulsen brings his great skills as a naturalist and his enthusiasm for the outdoor life to descriptions of the boy's adjustment to the orderly farm, from vivid descriptions of an encounter with hostile geese to the work of milking cows and tending fields. The characterizations are deeply affectionate if a little Waltons-ish: Alida and the two farmers are strong, self-contained and yet keenly attuned to the boy's unstated needs. Several narrative frames neatly set off the effect of the farm interlude: the book begins as the protagonist, grown and in the Army, pays a visit to Alida, and it ends when he, "old enough to have grandchildren of his own," discovers that there was more behind that special summer than he had known. It's Paulsen's classic blend of emotion and ruggedness, as satisfying as ever. Ages 10-up. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
To quote KLIATT's Sept. 1999 review of the hardcover edition: Having barely squeaked through 8th grade, Johnny, age 14, is anticipating a summer like every other, delivering newspapers in the mornings and selling them in bars at night, hustling drunks for spare change, and avoiding his drunken parents. Then his grandmother Alida sends him a letter, telling him that she has arranged a job for the summer for him on a farm run by two elderly Norwegian brothers, for whom she is the cook. In an ancient truck without any brakes, Johnny drives to the farm, meets the kindly brothers, helps out with the endless farm work, eats enormous, lovingly described meals prepared by his grandmother, gets beaten up by geese, and learns to dance. Not until much later in life does he realize that his grandmother had paid him herself, stepping in to change his unhappy life at a time when he desperately needed help. This nostalgic paean to farm life in a bygone era is based on events in Paulsen's own life. It's a companion to The Cookcamp, which tells about when his grandmother took him to live with her as a five-year-old when she was cooking for a work crew in Canada during WW II, but it stands on its own. In simple but effective prose, Paulsen tells about Johnny's daily life on the farm and the Saturday night dance, all the while absorbing the warmth and caring that he has sorely missed in his life. The brevity of this deeply felt novel makes it a good choice for reluctant readers; the warm glow of Johnny's experiences on the farm will appeal to all readers. (A companion to The Cookcamp) KLIATT Codes: J*Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 1999, Random House, DellYearling, 90p. 20cm., $5.50. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; KLIATT , July 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 4)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-A sequel to The Cookcamp (Orchard, 1991), in which a little boy is sent to Minnesota to stay with his grandmother who cooks for a crew of road builders. Grandma Alida once again steps in at a troubled time in her grandson's life. Now the boy is 14; living with violent, drunken parents; and surviving on a variety of odd jobs and the kindness of neighborhood shopkeepers. A strategically timed letter arrives from his grandmother offering him a summer job as a hired hand on a farm owned by two Norwegian brothers for whom she cooks. He accepts the offer and experiences a season of hard work, music, dancing, and hearty meals served up with warmth, love, and understanding. The rhythms and rituals of farm life are described with alluring detail-enough to make any city kid yearn for a summer away. The book begins with the boy (readers never do learn his name), now a man on leave from the army, visiting his grandmother and remembering that wonderful time in his life. It ends with the man, now married with a family, learning of Alida's unspoken sacrifices for him from a cigar box full of old letters. This beautifully written novella is a quiet tribute to a loving relative.-Barbara Auerbach, Brooklyn Public Library, NY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
In Paulsen's expressive companion novella to The Cookcamp (1991), a neglected, withdrawn adolescent experiences an emotional renaissance as he gradually bonds with his caring grandmother and the two gentle farmers she cooks for. When this slender but deeply felt book opens, the 14-year-old male protagonist is living a life of quiet desperation. Struggling in school, working odd jobs and trying to avoid his unpleasant, drunken parents, the boy lives in a world devoid of close human connection. This all changes when he receives a letter from his grandmother, saying that she found him a good summer job with the Norwegian bachelor farmers who employ her. The boy takes the position, and though the work is physically demanding, his loving grandmother and the farmers slowly nurture his withered soul. Because of their goodness and tender ministrations he eventually finds the heart to, both literally and figuratively, join in the dance of life. Readers will want to savor this stirring book; by the time they find out that the farmers didn't need help and that the boy's wages were paid by his grandmother so that she could prevent his floundering, the book's emotional depths will have all but engulfed them. (Fiction. 10-12)
From the Publisher
"Leisurely paced and never melodramatic, the slender plot is as integral ... as the glowing character of the grandmother, whose goodness intensifies. "-Booklist
"This is an affectionate character study that will appeal to readers moved by The Cookcamp, wherein they first met Alicia."
-The Bulletin, Recommended
Read an Excerpt
Saturday came fast, too fast for the boy, but not so fast that he did not have time to think of the problems he faced.
He had never been to a party.
He did not know any of the people who would be there.
He had never been to a dance.
He could not speak to girls.
He could not be with crowds of strangers.
He could not, he finally decided, go.
The boy started in early in the day on Saturday. As they did morning chores he mentioned that he was not feeling well. His grandmother felt his head and Olaf and Gunnar both looked at him strangely.
"You did not seem sick at breakfast," Olaf said. "You ate good."
"He ate more than me," Gunnar said. "More than both of us."
"I just feel kind of sick," the boy said, knowing it was a lost cause. "It only came over me now."
"Well," his grandmother said, "I'll just have to stay home tonight and make sure you are all right."
The looks Olaf and Gunnar sent him were withering and he knew it was over. "I think it will be all right. I think I just drank too much milk. I'm still not used to whole milk."
Preparations began right after evening chores.
From the Hardcover edition.