From the Publisher
Praise for The Barn
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.
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
Read an Excerpt
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.