Black Duck
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Black Duck

4.2 22
by Janet Taylor Lisle

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It is spring 1929, and Prohibition is in full swing. So when Ruben and Jeddy find a dead body washed up on the shore of their small coastal Rhode Island town, they are sure it has something to do with smuggling liquor. Soon the boys, along with Jeddy’s strongwilled sister, Marina, are drawn in, suspected by rival bootlegging gangs of taking something crucial

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It is spring 1929, and Prohibition is in full swing. So when Ruben and Jeddy find a dead body washed up on the shore of their small coastal Rhode Island town, they are sure it has something to do with smuggling liquor. Soon the boys, along with Jeddy’s strongwilled sister, Marina, are drawn in, suspected by rival bootlegging gangs of taking something crucial off the dead man. Then Ruben meets the daring captain of the Black Duck, the most elusive smuggling craft of them all, and it isn’t long before he’s caught in a war between two of the most dangerous prohibition gangs.

"Riveting mystery and nonstop adventure." —School Library Journal

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The title of Lisle's (The Art of Keeping Cool) suspenseful novel refers to a rumrunner-one of the boats used during Prohibition to smuggle outlawed liquor into the U.S. Readers will likely look past the awkward frame story-a contemporary student interviews Ruben Hart, who was a child during Prohibition-as they sink deeper into Ruben's story. In the spring of 1929, while Ruben and his friend Jeddy look for lobster pots, they come across a man's body washed up on the beach, elegantly dressed, with a bullet hole through his neck. They go back to report it, but when the police arrive, the body has vanished. The situation grows complicated: Jeddy's father is chief of police, Ruben's father works for general store owner Mr. Riley, whom Ruben suspects may be involved in the bootlegging, and an old fisherman living in a seaside shack is roughed up as some men come looking for a mysterious "ticket." Much is at stake, as many locals supplement their livelihood by unloading the rumrunners, and townsfolk suspect there is a traitor in their midst. This is a gripping tale of families and friendships stretched to the breaking point as the community around Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay is caught in the escalating conflict between rival gangs. Faux reproductions of period articles anchor the narrative and move the story along. Even though readers know from the get-go that the Black Duck will come to no good, they will eagerly turn the pages to find out how. Ages 10-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
When Ruben and Jeddy scour the Rhode Island shore for lost lobster posts, they never expect to find a dead body—let alone one with a bullet hole through his neck, dressed in a fancy suit and wearing a gold wristwatch. Ruben and Jeddy rush into town to report their finding, but the police seem in no hurry to check out the crime scene. They tell the boys to go home and wait for further instructions. When the deputy finally returns several hours later and the boys lead him back to the beach, the body is gone. Convinced that the dead man is somehow involved in the lucrative bootlegging trade, the boys are determined to solve the mystery of the man's death and disappearance in spite of warnings from the police and their own families to not get involved. Ruben and Jeddy's story is told in reminiscences of an elderly Ruben to a not-quite-high-school-age reporter digging into the story of a legendary rumrunner that eluded the law for years along the Rhode Island coast during the height of prohibition. Successfully combining gripping mystery and suspense with historical fiction, this book engages readers from page one all the way to its satisfying conclusion. 2006, Philomel/Penguin, Ages 8 to 12.
—Pat Trattles
Framed as a modern-day interview between a teenage boy and the last surviving rumrunner in a Rhode Island town, Ruben Hart tells the story of the Black Duck, a legendary, fast smuggling boat, from his firsthand experience in 1929, when he was a teenager. Ruben and his best friend, Jeddy McKenzie, the police chief's son, find a body washed up on the beach, confirming the rumor that rumrunners are working in the area. They report it to the police, and then return to find the body missing. Over time, both boys notice that most of the town's residents are involved in smuggling, mainly out of necessity, and they watch as bootlegging escalates, larger and more sinister gangs take over, and corruption spreads. A philosophical difference separates the friends, who end up on opposite sides of the conflict between the authorities and the rumrunners. Lisle's story presents complex issues about Prohibition: that many of the authorities were corrupt, and that the violence resulting from bootlegging was worse than the effects of alcohol. Her book is filled with material for a good classroom discussion on history and ethics. There is lots of adventure and mystery, and careful readers will find clues to the story all along that they can piece together. The subject of rum-running should interest boys and reluctant readers. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, Philomel, 240p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Jenny Ingram
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-A teen's determination to be published in the local paper leads him to Ruben Hart's front door and an unlikely friendship. The elderly man has a mysterious past, and David soon becomes wrapped up in his tale of how he played an integral part in the adventures surrounding the legendary rum-running ship called the Black Duck. In 1929, in Newport, RI, Ruben and his friend Jeddy, 14, found a body on the beach. By the time they convinced the authorities to check it out, the dead man had disappeared, and soon both the New York and Boston mobs were after Ruben. The author explores the subject of Prohibition as well as various underlying social themes. She shows the difficulty of staying honest when everyone else is breaking the law and when local authorities all seem to be in on the action. Another issue involves the Coast Guard's shooting of three men believed to be rumrunners, and whether the murders were justified. Readers will be inspired by both Ruben's and David's will to succeed when faced with an overwhelming challenge and how they stand by their convictions in doing so. The decade-alternating chapters may be a bit challenging for reluctant readers, but the riveting mystery and nonstop adventure will provide enough incentive for older readers.-Kimberly Monaghan, formerly at Vernon Area Public Library, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Two boys find a man's body on the shore. He's barefoot but dressed in a suit and has a bullet hole in his neck. When they bring help, the body has disappeared. It's 1929, along the coast of Rhode Island, a site of rum-running during the Prohibition era. Bootleggers, modern-day pirates, locals cheering on the bad guys-it's the stuff of fine storytelling. Based on the true story of the Black Duck, a fast, hard-to-catch boat that ran circles around the Coast Guard, Lisle's tale is told through an interview conducted by young David Peterson of old Ruben Hart, rumored to have been a rumrunner. The interview scenes interrupt the pace and drama of the narrative, but readers will enjoy the unfolding story as David hears it. Like The Art of Keeping Cool (2000), also set in Lisle's home state of Rhode Island, this is solid historical fiction. Together, they make a nice one-two punch-one about the Prohibition era, one of the home front during WWII. (author's note) (Fiction. 10+)
From the Publisher
Lots of adventure and mystery. (VOYA)

Riveting mystery and nonstop adventure. (School Library Journal)

The setting's cinematic detail brings the exhilarating action close, and readers will easily see themselves in young Ruben. (Booklist)

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.93(d)
790L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Muffled Engine

I was in a black mood when I left the store that afternoon, angry at Marina and sore from unloading stock all day. If I'd been smart, I would have headed straight back to my house and stayed put. But my mother was there, waiting like a broody hen, ready to ask how my day had gone.

I wheeled my bike into the street and pedalled away, feeling his cool gaze on my back.

A group of younger boys was in the field beyond the school whacking a baseball around and whooping it up. They'd been in the store buying sodas earlier, where they'd been warned to keep their voices down and wait their turn at the counter. I knew every one of them by name, such is the closeness of a small town, and now, hearing the crack of the ball on the bat, and their shouts, a darker feeling swept over me.

I was trapped in this place. While Marina visited Harveston and Boston, meeting up with the world, I hauled pickle barrels in Riley's back room, where not even my father looked in on me anymore. He'd given up trying to make me into something he could like.

I set out toward the back country, down a road I'd seldom biked which wound away from the sea, past rocky farmland and shrub-clogged forests. The November daylight began to fade and still I went on, furiously at times, suddenly in a rage that even one-eyed Tom Morrison was no longer specially mine. He was Billy Brady's friend, and Billy's father's before that. The free life he led came out of weakness and retreat, not anything strong he could pass on to me. He was as likely as anyone to bend before the wind.

I rode on through the darkening landscape. Over an hour passed before I thought of going back. My legs had begun to ache. The sun was down by then, and the road dim. An eerie silence rose on all sides and I was suddenly aware that I was far, far out in the country. I was turning to head home when the sound of tires came from the bend ahead. I flicked on my bicycle lamp and drew to the side.

The vehicle, driving without headlights, rode toward me with a ghostly quiet. As it passed, I recognized the whir of a muffled engine and glanced back over my shoulder. It was a Ford coup, one tail-light out.

The vehicle braked, stopped, and began to reverse direction. A moment later the car came up in back of me and I squeezed over a second time to let it by. But it hung back and, little by little, moved up closer until I felt the heat of the motor on my legs.

"Come ahead!" I yelled, gesturing for the driver to go past. He would not. When I looked back to see what the trouble was, a face pushed up close to the windshield and broke into a toothy grin.

Fear spiked through me. Even so, I couldn't believe that anyone could mean me harm. A game is what I thought, and for another hundred yards, I played my part by riding as far to the left-hand side as possible without going in the woods. Finally, with a roar, the big roadster pulled out to pass and I thought I'd be left in peace. But that was not to be. With stealthy calm, the vehicle moved up until the broad side windows were abreast of me. Out of the corner of one eye, I saw faces through the glass.

"Hey! Give me some room!" I called out.

There was no response, and in the next second I saw that I wasn't to be allowed even my slim edge of road. The side of the car moved closer until, with a last impatient swerve, it struck me. I lost my balance and went flying into the woods where a darkness darker than night dropped over me.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Lots of adventure and mystery. (VOYA)

Riveting mystery and nonstop adventure. (School Library Journal)

Meet the Author

Janet Taylor Lisle was born in Englewood, New Jersey and grew up in Farmington, Connecticut, spending summers on the coast of Rhode Island. The eldest and only daughter in a family of five children, she was educated at local schools and at fifteen entered The Ethel Walker School, a girl's boarding school in Simsbury, Ct.

After graduation from Smith College in 1969 with a degree in English Literature, she enlisted and was trained for work in VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). She lived and worked for the next two years in Atlanta, Georgia, organizing food-buying cooperatives in the city's public housing projects and teaching in an early-child care center. Catalyzed by this experience, she enrolled in journalism courses at Georgia State University with the idea of writing about the poverty she had seen. This was the beginning of a reporting career that extended over the next ten years.

With the birth of her daughter in 1977, Lisle turned to writing projects that could be accomplished at home. In 1984, The Dancing Cats of Applesap, her first novel for children, was published. Subsequently, she has published ten other novels.

Afternoon of the Elves, a 1990 Newbery Honor Book, has been translated into six languages. It was produced as a play by the Seattle Children's Theater in 1993, and continues to be performed in children's theaters throughout the U.S. In this book, as in others she has written, the author plumbs a borderland between reality and fantasy where imagination holds sway and the ordinary surfaces of life crack open to reveal hidden worlds.

Elves, fairies and exotic creatures make appearances in her novels but whether they are real within the story, or merely imaginative projections of her characters, is often left unresolved.

"I think of magic as that which is still waiting to be discovered," the author has said. "I put it in my books to remind readers (myself included) to keep a sharp eye out. The unknown is everywhere, all around us and lurking even in our own minds."

She lives on the Rhode Island coast with her husband, Richard Lisle, and their daughter Elizabeth, a college student.

copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

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Black Duck 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whats up wirh the roleplay
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Black Duck, It is truely a astounding novel writen for the minds of young readers so they might catch a glimps of true american enjinuity. Stariong Ruben and Jeddy, the two best friends are walking on the beach to "find" crab traps and return them to their owners so they can make a quick 15 cents, thats what kids in their spare time did. Janet Taylor Lisle set the perfect seen of the prohibition of liquir in 1929 in her work to. She showed the danger, risk, and adventure that occours once in a life time. In combinating with this Janet aslo sent a good example of what can happen when friends start to fight, it never ends well and it doesnt help to have money of vast proportions be the sparek to the fight.
sridvijay More than 1 year ago
I hated it. Boring. Slept a few times. Its just so boring. I like books too!
antmous More than 1 year ago
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! not that good i think that you sould ad more vocab words like donut :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this is one of the best books in all time. very mistious, janet taylor lisle is a great author, i enjoyed this book and i fully recommend you to read it if you like misteries and actions.
AnthonyV More than 1 year ago
I am sad to say that before I read this book, I had no knowledge of the Prohibition at all. Other readers may enjoy this book the same way I did just because they learn something new while being taken back in time almost 100 years. The way the author wrote the chapters with alternating past to present prospectives keeps the reader wanting to read on. And the cliff-hangers leave the reader on the edge of their seats until the end of the ride. Most kids around my age never knew that at one point in time, alcohol was BANNED. Not limited. BANNED! Just the fact that at one time people illegally smuggled in liquor from international waters is interesting. A rum-running story is just naturally exciting. Who wouldn't be interested in high-speed chases and gangs? It's just this kind of adventure that makes reading fun. I'm pretty sure even an adult could learn something and enjoy this book as well. I could just go on and on about this book. It's amazing and I have nothing but praise for it.
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Jamman98 More than 1 year ago
I love this book! it is almost my favorite book I recomend it to people 9-20
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The main character is a young boy named Ruben Hart. He is about 15 years old.He is involved in the rum runing bisness.
The plot is that there is alot of problems with rum runing.Ruben is trying to get out of it but he day Ruben and his friend Jeddy wore walking on the beach and they found a dead body on the beach.when some rum runers that want the money for a big delivery find that the ticket is not with the body they loke for it.The only one how they think could have it is a old man with one eye but he did not have so the chase was on.
It takes plase in 1929 it is a true story.
I think the meneing of the story is to infourm and intertan.
I love this story because it cepes you on the end of your seat and it is full of information about history.
I can connect my self to the story because my life is full of action and I can connect it to world because the world is full of drugs and crime.
HalieM More than 1 year ago
I love this book so much,I think it's horrible that Ruben and Jeddy's friendship ended so easily.I think it's also sad that Jeddy dies at the end of the book,along with the crew(except for one man)of the Black Duck. I find it hard to explain how much I just love this book!I hope to reccomend this to many of my friends who are interested in a book about the history of rum-running.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
David's dream is to become a reporter. His father wants him to help run the family landscaping business.

David's dream leads him to a man, Ruban, with possible connections to the Black Duck, the famous rum-running boat during the prohibition in Rhode Island.

David tells Ruban that he's a senior in high school and might get published in the local newspaper. In reality, David is just starting his freshman year. Ruban reluctantly tells David some facts about the town during the time period, starting with the day that he and his best friend, Jeddy, found a dead body on the beach. When they went to alert the authorities, the body disappeared and the boys were warned not to talk about it.

Over the course of several visits, Ruban tells more of the story to David. Ruban's initial curiosity led him down a different path than Jeddy, as he wanted to know more about the body, more about the rum-runners, and even wanted to lend a hand. Soon he and Jeddy were at odds over the rum business. What started as an innocent curiosity led Ruban into danger that neither boy could have imagined.

The BLACK DUCK blends worlds with the interruptions between David's questions and Ruban's story. While Jeddy and Ruban had an amazing story, Ruban feels that the whole story isn't his to tell and that Jeddy owns a piece of it. However, with Jeddy dying, Ruban clears his mind of guilt and finishes the tale.

The BLACK DUCK is a unique historical fiction novel that will engage readers.
salguod More than 1 year ago
black duck is a very good read if you are about 13 and up it is very suspensfull and there are so many twists and turns you wont believe it.
if you like action/mystery books this is probably a good read for you. i loved it because it is very life like (based on a true story) and it involves people like normal parents that are in the buisness. ruben is one of the main charecters in the story and when he finds out that his dad is part of the buisness too he looses all control and respect for others. He and his two friends must get out of the hole they have dug before they get in too deep. this is a life lesson book for those who like it. READ THIS BOOK IT WILL SHOCK YOU AND YOU WILL READ IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER. i did. Over the course of several visits, Ruban tells more of the story to David. Ruban's initial curiosity led him down a different path than Jeddy, as he wanted to know more about the body, more about the rum-runners, and even wanted to lend a hand. Soon he and Jeddy were at odds over the rum business. What started as an innocent curiosity led Ruban into danger that neither boy could have imagined.
the body they found was ontthe beach with no sign of anyone coming or going.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Black Duck is an excellent book for the classroom, especially for some of the more disinterested male students. It tells an interesting story full of mystery, danger, and historical references. Due to the historical nature of the book it can be used in connection with a social studies unit discussion on the time of prohibition. What I particularly like about it though is how it can be used to discuss interview skills and how to write an article. The story is told in flashbacks as a young boy interviews a man who lived through the time and was heavily involved in bootlegging. My male students have found the book particularly intriguing due to the slightly dark nature (due to the crime involved) and the action scenes. The author does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life and weaving a web of secrecy that blankets the world of bootlegging. Everyone knew it was going on, but nobody was sure who was really involved, making everyone a suspect in the small town.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Black Duck paints a strong painting of the prohibition law back in American history. The book shows excellent emotions and feelings in the characters, great transitions from interviews to chapters, and a melancholy yet excellent ending. My favorite part of the book was the author's notes that I truly relished. The only reason why I did not give this book five stars is because I, in my opinion, thought it was lacking some important visual details of the characters and the rum running ships in the novel. But other than that great job Lisle.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Black Duck is an exceptionally well written historical fiction novel. The author has a way of incorporating mystery, suspense, and secrets to keep the reader from wanting to put the book down. Two boys¿, Ruben and Jeddy, lives are drastically altered the moment they find a washed up body on the beach during the 1929 Prohibition era. The beaches near their town are turning into smuggling centers for various rum-runners, including the infamous Black Duck, a boat known for successfully eluding the Coast Guard on numerous occasions. This is a great book to hook children into historical fiction books!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I hate saying this, but this is the first historical fiction text that I have EVER read. If all historical fiction is this wonderful, I'M HOOKED. It has action and characters that you wish you could really meet. If you like a good book, grab this one off the shelf.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was full of suspense, and kept me standing on my toes. This book is for anyone who loves historical fiction books, and for anyone who loves books with a ton of action in it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book the Black Duck is a book by Janet Taylor Lisle and it is a historical fiction book. Black Duck was an amazing book from beginning to end. The storyline about the prohibition laws and rum running made the book really suspenseful and a page turner. It took place in present day Rhode Island. But when the main character begins to tell his story it goes to the past in the early 1900¿s in Rhode Island as well. The major conflict in this book would have to be that the main character Ruben Hart and his friend Jeddy McKenzie find a body on the shore. They see that he has been shot and they also see a bootlegger¿s case a couple of feet away from the body. They have the suspicion that he is involved in the rum running. So they set off to figure out the mystery of the dead body. While they are trying to figure out the mystery they encounter many people and see a lot of things. One night when Jeddy was on his bike delivering some medicine he sees a famous rum running boat named the Black Duck. After that they decide to go to an old fisherman¿s house is name was Thomas. He had a belonging of the body in his possession and he tells them what he knows to help them out with the mystery. Then two big men go to old Tom¿s house and search it for a wallet and the watch he had in his possession. They ruined his little house and then one of the men trip on his dog named Viola and fires his machine gun at the dog. There are parts in the book where the author writes in third person view but then when they go to the past, the main character Ruben Hart narrates the story (first person). I would recommend this book Black Duck to anyone who likes history. The book is full o suspense and you wont be able to put the book down.