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The Barn

The Barn

3.6 6
by Avi

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The schoolmaster says nine-year-old Benjamin is the finest student he's ever seen-fit for more than farming; destined for great things someday But his father's grave illness brings Ben home,from school and compels him to strive forsomething great right now — to do the one thing that will please Father so much he'll want to live. But first Ben must convince


The schoolmaster says nine-year-old Benjamin is the finest student he's ever seen-fit for more than farming; destined for great things someday But his father's grave illness brings Ben home,from school and compels him to strive forsomething great right now — to do the one thing that will please Father so much he'll want to live. But first Ben must convince his older sister andbrother to work with him. And together, they succeed in ways they never dreamed possible.

Author Biography:

Ask Avi how you know when you're a real writer and his answer is simple: "I think you become a writer when you stop writing for yourself or your teachers and start thinking about readers." Avi made up his mind to do that when he was just a senior in high school.

Avi was born in 1937 in New York City and was raised in Brooklyn. Kids often ask him about his name. "My twin sister gave it to me when we were both about a year old. And it stuck." To this day, Avi is the only name the author uses.

As a kid, Avi says, he was "shy, not into sports, but someone who loved to read and play games of imagination." He did not consider himself a good student, though. "In elementary school I did well in science, but I was a poor writer. When I got to high school I failed all my courses. Then my folks put me in a small school that emphasized reading and writing." What made him want to become a writer? "Since writing was important to my family, friends and school, it was important to me. I wanted to prove that I could write. But it took years before I had a book published."

Avi didn't start off as an author of children's books but as a playwright. It was only when he had children of his own thathe started to write for young people.

When asked if writing is hard for him, Avi gives an unequivocal YES. "But," he goes on, "it's hard for everyone to write well. I have to rewrite over and over again, so on average it takes me a year to write a book." Where does he get his ideas? "Everybody has ideas. The vital question is: What do you do with them? My wife, a college teacher, uses her ideas to understand literature. My rock musician sons shape their ideas in to music. I take my ideas and turn them into stories."

Avi's advice for people who want to write: "I believe reading is the key to writing. the more you read, the better your writing can be." He adds, "Listen, and watch the world around you. Don't be satisfied with answers others give you. Don't assume that because everyone believes a thing, that it is right or wrong. Reason things out for yourself. Work to get answers on your own. Understand why you believe things. Finally, write what you honestly feel, then learn from the criticism that will always come your way."Avi's many award-winning books for young readers include the Newbery Honor Books Nothing But the Truth and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, as well as more Tales from Dimwood Forest, including Poppy, winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, Poppy and Rye, and Ragweed. His many other books include tales of mystery, fantasy, and historical fiction for young readers of all ages.In His Own Words...

When I was small, I was read to continually. My grandparents were always telling stories. Our house was filled with books. I saw adults read. Hardly a wonder, then, that I becane a early reader of all sorts of things — books for childern, comic books, science magazines, history books — anything in which I could fing a story. There was kids' radio too, which I adored. Even so, writing didn't interest me.

It was in my junior year of high school that a great crisis took place: My English teacher informed my parents that I was the worst student he ever had. That summer I was required to spend a lot os time with a family friend, a teacher, who tutored me in writing basics. She gave me something even more important: a reason for writing.

Writing, she taught me, was not just for myself or for some teacher. It was a way of sharing ideas and stories with many. With that notion in mind, I set out after that summer to be a writer, though it wasn't until I had childern of my own that I began to write for young people.

I believe that as a writer for kids, I have three basic options. The first is to write as well as I can. The second is to be honest. The third is to create a vision of possibility. It doesn't matter if that vision is happy or tragic, funny or serious. What does matter is that I show that life is worth living, that we must at least try to fulfill the promise of ourselves. As one of my characters once said, "A good childern's book of promises. And promises are ment to be kept."

I really enjoy meeting my readers. Each year I visit schools and classrooms, and talk to young readers, teachers, and librarians all over the country. We talk about books, the writing and reading of them, how books affect — even change — their readers. It's a good life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.)
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Avi shows how complicated family love can become when tragedy strikes. Ben, the hero, an extraordinary nine year old is sent from his 1855 farm to be educated so that he can fulfill the great promise his family sees in him. When his father is paralyzed by a stroke, Ben returns home to begin another kind of learning. Devastated at first, when he is forced to acknowledge the severity of his stricken father's illness, Ben eventually masters his own feelings of helplessness, succeeds at care taking, and finally establishes communication with the man who is imprisoned by his illness. This emotionally packed book is simply written so those young adults who are not strong readers can be exposed to a thought-provoking literary adventure.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-After their father suffers a ``fit of palsy,'' three motherless children try to keep their struggling farm going in 1855 Oregon. Although nine-year-old Benjamin is the youngest, he is the cleverest of the three, and also the one who truly believes that the man can recover. His sister Nettie wants to marry and start her own life, but agrees to help the family for as long as she can. Harrison is much bigger and stronger than his younger brother, but not quite as quick thinking. After Benjamin figures out a way to communicate with his father, he convinces the others that if they can build the barn that the man had been planning, he will somehow find a reason to live. The family relationships are well drawn, as the siblings react to each situation in their own way, though Benjamin's obsession with curing his father makes him a hard character to empathize with at times. Ultimately, the boy is forced to question his own additional motives for building the barn. While focusing mainly on his characters, Avi presents a vivid picture of the time and place, including fairly involved details about how the barn is constructed. This novel may not have the wide appeal of some of Avi's earlier titles, but it is a thought-provoking and engaging piece of historical fiction.-Steven Engelfried, West Lynn Library, OR
Hazel Rochman
Rooted in a one-room family cabin in Oregon Territory in the 1850s, this is a classic survival story of kids who suddenly find themselves on their own without adults to care for them The terror is there from the first line: "Your father has met with an accident," nine-year-old Ben is told at boarding school. He must go home to help his 13-year-old brother, Harrison, and 15-year-old sister, Nettie. Mother died the year before of diphtheria; another brother died on the trail coming west. Now Ben, Harrison, and Nettie stand uncertainly in front of the cabin: "We hardly knew what or how to be." Not only must they farm the family claim and bring in the crop, but they must also care for their father, who is paralyzed. He's as helpless as a baby, unable to speak or move his body or control his bowels At first Ben is "mortified" at having to feed and clean his father. But then it becomes routine. In fact, "his filth proved that Father still lived. . . . In this way did I begin to learn how heaven and earth do mingle. Ben's spare, first-person narrative tells of the special relationship he had with his father--their own "private mischief." Now, his father can't talk to him. In a chapter of almost unbearable intensity, Ben does finally get his silent father to communicate. Ben asks a question and screams in anger, "If you mean "yes", you "must" close your eyes!" And then, his father does close his eyes. Is it an accident? Or does he mean "yes" The question Ben asked was whether Father wanted his children to build the barn he had been hoping to build himself. Ben persuades Harrison and Nettie that they must build it to give Father a reason to live and that they must build it alone, without the help of neighbors, as a gift to their father. Nettie tries to make Ben see that Father is dying anyway, but Ben denies it. With Father propped up in a barrow, they mark the site, fell the trees. They use the oxen to haul the logs, then they cut, strip, and split them. While Father wastes away, they pile rocks for the foundation, and raise the walls and roof. When the barn is finally done, it is "nothing much to look at and probably not truly square," yet it holds them there. And Father is dead. Did Ben build the barn for Father? Did Father get Ben to build it That yoking of opposites is in every scene, almost in every sentence, of this plainspoken novel. The name Ben means "son of." The story shows that the child is father of the man; that dying and building are one cycle; that silence can be eloquent language. Nothing is certain. Every statement opens out, even the Lord's Prayer: "Our father" is dead, and he's in heaven, and he's in the barn. Heaven and earth do mingle The characters have the same complexity. Ben is very smart--that's why he was the one sent to school--yet he hates being special, and he envies his brother's size and strength. Through Ben's memories, the character of his beloved father emerges as far from perfect. Father never quite built a home; he said he never had much "luck," moving his family from Vermont to Illinois to Missouri before coming to Oregon. Father didn't build the barn himself. It's ironic that he now helps Ben find the self-reliance to do it for them both The writing is understated, almost monosyllabic, with a casual tone and concrete imagery reminiscent of the poetry of Robert Frost. It's interesting that the most detailed part of the story is the mechanics of the barn building. Work, especially manual work, is getting more attention in children's books. Here Avi particularizes the struggle to make a place that is home Avi is one of our most versatile and prolific children's writers. He never does the same thing twice, always experimenting with form and theme and setting, from thriller and realistic fiction to radio play and graphic novel. This small, beautiful historical novel has a timeless simplicity. It's the best thing he's done. Like MacLachlan's "Sarah, Plain and Tall" (1985), the story reaches from home to the universe.
From the Publisher

Praise for The Barn

ALA Notable
New York Public Library Best Books of the Year
IRA Teacher's Choice

"This small, beautiful historical novel has a timeless simplicity . . . . Like MacLachlan's SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL, the story reaches from home to the universe."–Booklist

"A spare, classic story of family and community."--THE HORN BOOK

"[The] narrative is lovingly honed, the interaction of the characters drawn with sensitivity and skill."--KIRKUS

"Thought-provoking and engaging."--SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

Children's Literature - Susan Borges
An Avi book is a literary treasure and this wonderful story is no exception. It is short, but poignant, thought-provoking, and totally absorbing. Set on a family farm in Oregon in 1855, it is a story about nine-year-old Ben and his two siblings as they face the sudden illness and impending death of their beloved father. Ben, who is away at school in Portland, must come back to the family farm and help his sister and brother care for their father. Although Ben had been sent to school because it was his mother’s dying wish, he was now needed to help with everything that had to be done on the farm. Soon after Ben returns home, it becomes clear that he will be his dad’s caretaker because Ben is not as big or strong as his older brother and sister who must do all the farm work. As the family settles into their very difficult, but necessary, routine for survival of the farm, Ben begins to find ways to communicate with his father who is living in a silent, frozen state. Ben convinces his siblings that his father’s wish is for them to build the family farm which he had always planned to build. Throughout this compelling and touching story the reader is not spared the grim details of caring for an invalid. Ben must bath his father, clean his bed sheets, and spoon feed him every day. Yet, Ben adjusts to these circumstances with a steely maturity and gritty determination to make things right. Upper elementary and middle school readers will be moved by this poignant historical fiction because it has a message of perseverance, compassion, understanding, and determination. Anyone who has ever faced a family struggle of any kind will relate to Ben’s sense of family and love and be moved by his determination, maturity, and will to do what he thinks is right for his dad and his family. This classic story would be a good read-aloud in an upper elementary or middle school classroom because it will encourage much thoughtful discussion and reflection about dealing with difficult situations. Reviewer: Susan Borges; Ages 8 to 12.

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 7.51(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Your father has met with an accident." Schoolmaster Dortmeister, his wife by his side, spoke gravely to me in the best parlor of their house in Portland, where I was boarding at school. The only other time I had seen that room was when my father had left me there, seven months before. That was also the last time I had seen Father.

Mrs. Dortmeister put the back of her small hand to my cheek and said, "Benjamin, I understand it's not so very bad."

"But you're needed at home," the schoolmaster said. "Your sister has come to take you.

Father had brought me to Portland for Mother's sake. To soothe my upset over leaving our farm, he told two tales for every mile the mule trod on the journey. He recited his best jokes, too — taking on voices, making sounds and gesturing as if he had ten tongues and fifteen hands. We were so full of our usual private mischief that I was much comforted. He promised to fetch me for a holiday in four months' time. He never came.

So of course I wanted to rush off and find Nettle; yet I would not leave the parlor without permission.- They were fair in that place but strict.

"Benjamin," the schoolmaster went on, "you are the finest student I have ever had." He always called me Benjamin, though I preferred what my father called me: Ben. But that name, Ben, Mr. Dortmeister told me, was not dignified. He said I must put it aside since — as far as he was concerned — I was destined for higher things. "You may be only nine years old, but you're fit for more than farming. You

know your letters, sums, and geometry better and are wiser than all the rest ofmy students combined."

Mr. Dortmeister had round gray eyes and a nose too big for his face. Tufts of hair grew out of his ears. I had always thought him comical. But when I looked up at him that time, in his best parlor, I thought he seemed about to cry.

As for me, my head was crowded with worry about Father and thoughts of Nettie, who was outside, waiting — impatiently, no doubt. At the best of times, Nettie was not a patient soul. Nothing happened fast enough for her.

Mrs. Dortmeister said, "Your sister suggests that you'll be home only a short time. So we shall look for your early return."

I replied, "I am sure I'll return," though I said it mostly because I thought that's what the schoolmaster wanted to hear.

"Do," he said. "You'll always be welcome."

I made a move to go, but Mr. Dortmeister held me by speaking again. "Benjamin,"he said, "you must tell your father that I agree with him, that your gift of learning is particular fine. He will know then how truly sorry I am to lose you."

I said, "I'll tell him, sir."

"Wish your father a sound recovery. I'll retain the school fees against your return."

"Yes, sir," I said, and once again made a motion to leave.

Still, he would not release me. "Benjamin," he said, "we want to pray with you now." He and his wife bowed their heads. So I did the same.

"Our Father," the schoolmaster began, "who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

"Amen," he ended, as did his wife.

"Amen," I echoed.

Then he sighed. "Very well, Benjamin. Your sister is waiting. We bid you farewell." Young as I was, he shook my hand, and we parted like two refined gentlemen. At last I turned and dashed away.

I found Nettle pacing up and down by our wagon. She was tall and thin with hairblack as night and a sweet face that never" could hide thoughts. The moment I saw her peering out from her poke bonnet, I knew Father's situation worse than I'd been told.

Meet the Author

Avi is the author of more than sixty books, including Crispin: The Cross of Lead, a Newbery Medal winner, and Crispin: At the Edge of the World. His other acclaimed titles include The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Nothing But the Truth, both Newbery Honor Books, and most recently The Seer of Shadows. He lives with his family in Colorado.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 23, 1937
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964

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Barn 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We read this book in class and it is very amusing. I think all readers should read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Barn is a great book! it inspired me to go and enjoy my life as it is because you never know what life will be like in the future. Read this book to know how people lived the life back in the days where you made everything by hand.i really enjoyed this book!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book! I wasn't expecting the ending, but this book is the first book in a long time that has made me cry. I would recommend this book to anyone. I am going to probably read it again and again. It is a short book with a lot of passion and a lot to offer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Horriblity bad book wehn I read it i had to stop too sad
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Barn is a great book it keep you on your feet with all of the suprise. It's good for the hole family to read and enjoy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like farming and mystery you'll love the barn. It has to be a good book because it is by AVI. The main character is Ben. He is in school because he is really smart. Then his father gets really sick when he was plowing, so Ben had to come home and take care of his father. Ben has two siblings, Harrison and Nettie. While Ben is taking care of his father, he talks to him and figures out that he can answer him by blinking his eyes. Then his father is getting worse, and Ben has a great idea. If they build a barn, he thinks his father will get better.So they built a barn, just the three of them your going to have to read the book to find out what happend. I think it is a great book!