Words of Stone

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Overview

Blaze Werla is having a typical summer. He lives in the country with his father and grandmother. He spends his days alone, wandering around the hill beside his home.

Then the message appears on the side of the hill. And Blaze's summer suddenly takes a turn toward the mysterious. By the time Blaze meets Joselle Stark, the unexpected seems almost normal.

Busy trying to deal with his many fears and his troubled feelings for his dead ...

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Overview

Blaze Werla is having a typical summer. He lives in the country with his father and grandmother. He spends his days alone, wandering around the hill beside his home.

Then the message appears on the side of the hill. And Blaze's summer suddenly takes a turn toward the mysterious. By the time Blaze meets Joselle Stark, the unexpected seems almost normal.

Busy trying to deal with his many fears and his troubled feelings for his dead mother, ten-year-old Blaze has his life changed when he meets the boisterous and irresistible Joselle.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this stirring contemporary novel set in rural Wisconsin, Henkes Chrysanthemum ; The Zebra Wall paints a poignant picture of two lonely children whose paths cross one summer. First introduced is shy, red-headed Blaze, who has recently lost his mother to cancer. Now living with his grandmother and his artist father, the nine-year-old has trouble admitting his fears to anyone except his imaginary friends--until he meets Joselle, an outspoken, spellbinding girl who is staying on the other side of the hill with her Grandma Floy. Alternately showing the points of view of Blaze and Joselle, the book traces the meshing of two private worlds where ordinary objects--keys, spoons, stones, toy animals--carry special meaning. The fragile kinship that grows between the youngsters is threatened by an act of betrayal, yet, ultimately, deep-seated compassion and understanding help mend broken trusts. This story, offering an exceptionally sensitive and accurate portrayal of isolation, echoes feelings and themes found in Brock Cole's The Goats. Henkes, however, goes further in demonstrating the process of emotional healing--and acceptance of painful truths--that allows fear and loneliness to dissipate. His vivid characterizations and profound symbolism are sure to linger in readers' minds. Ages 10-up. Sept.
Publishers Weekly
"In this stirring contemporary novel, Henkes paints a poignant picture of two lonely children whose paths cross one summer," according to PW's boxed review. Ages 8-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-- Joselle ``sets out to complicate the life of Blaze Werla'' the summer she stays with her grandmother. She chooses him, a neighbor whom she hasn't met, because the details of his life intrigue her. Hard-eyed at ten, Joselle refers to her mother as ``the Beautiful Vicki,'' lies compulsively, and is an irresponsible playmate. The boy, fearful and still suffering from the death of his mother several years before, is an easy target. What begins with malicious playfulness does complicate lives, as the two children, both needy, become fast friends. Emotional doors begin to open. Joselle's early hurtful words, written in stones on Blaze's hill, are also inscribed on her legs in ballpoint tattoos that eventually give her away, revealing the pivot on which the two will finally balance their friendship. Subplots provide texture. Joselle's mother, supposedly on an extended getaway with her boyfriend, turns out never to have left home; Blaze's father is courting a woman whom the boy grudgingly comes to welcome; and Blaze resolves many of his fears to begin painting a long-empty canvas. The main plot is simple and clear, giving an immediate sense that Henkes's craftsmanship is artless. Rich characterization, dramatic subplots, and striking visual images belie that impression. The author's respect for the complexity of young people's lives is apparent in this outstanding novel, which will find an enthusiastic readership among fans of Betsy Byars and Susan Shreve. --Carolyn Noah, Central Mass. Regional Lib . System, Worcester, MA
ALA Booklist
“What readers will love about this book is the friendship between these two very different loners.”
Times Educational Supplement
“A challenging and skillful book.”
Chicago Tribune Books
“If you know Henkes only as a writer/illustrator for younger children, this book will be a pleasant surprise.”
Time Magazines Educational Supplement
"A challenging and skillful book."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140366013
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/1/1993
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 160
  • Age range: 9 - 11 Years
  • Lexile: 770L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.06 (w) x 7.84 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Henkes

Kevin Henkes is the author of Junonia, Sun & Spoon, Bird Lake Moon, and the Newbery Honor Book Olive's Ocean. He also writes and illustrates picture books, and among his many titles are the national bestsellers Little White Rabbit, My Garden, Old Bear, A Good Day, and Kitten's First Full Moon, for which he was awarded the Caldecott Medal. Mr. Henkes is also the creator of a series of books starring mouse characters, including the Penny books for beginning readers, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, Chrysanthemum, and Owen, for which he was awarded a Caldecott Honor.

Kevin Henkes lives with his family in Madison, Wisconsin.

Biography

Kevin Henkes still owns some of his favorite books from childhood. "They're brimming with all the telltale signs of true love: dog-eared pages, fingerprints on my favorite illustrations, my name and address inscribed on both front and back covers in inch-high lettering, and the faint smell of stale peanut butter on the bindings," he says in an interview on his web site.

Back in his peanut-butter sandwich days, Henkes dreamed of becoming an artist. By high school, he had combined his love of drawing with a newfound interest in writing, and at age 19, he took his portfolio to New York City in hopes of finding a publisher. Young Henkes returned home from his weeklong trip with a contract from Greenwillow Books, and he's worked as a children's writer and illustrator ever since.

Henkes's style has evolved over the years to include more humor, more whimsy and a lot more mice. Though he began illustrating his picture books with realistic drawings of children, he's since developed a recurring cast of mouse characters rendered in a more cartoon-like style -- though with a range of expressions that make the spirited Lilly, anxious Wemberly, fearless Sheila Rae and sensitive Chrysanthemum into highly believable heroines. Owen, the story of a little mouse who isn't ready to give up his tattered security blanket, won a Caldecott Honor Medal for its winsome watercolor-and-ink illustrations.

Many of Henkes's mouse books deal with such common childhood ordeals as starting school, being teased and getting lost. Chrysanthemum, about a mouse whose new schoolmates tease her about her name, was inspired by Henkes's own feelings when he started school. "The book is about family, and how starting something new and going out into the world can be very hard," he told an interviewer for The Five Owls. "I remember going to kindergarten -- my grandfather had a beautiful rose garden, and he gave me the last roses of the season to bring to the kindergarten teacher the next day. I don't even remember how it happened, but an older kid took these flowers from me on the playground, and I remember coming home, feeling awful." As a grown-up, Henkes is able to translate difficult childhood transitions into stories that are both honest and reassuring. In a review of Chrysanthemum, Kirkus Reviews noted: "Henkes's language and humor are impeccably fresh, his cozy illustrations sensitive and funny, his little asides to adults an unobtrusive delight."

Henkes has also written novels for older children, in which he "explores family relationships with breathtaking tenderness" (Publisher's Weekly). In The Birthday Room, for example, a twelve-year-old boy learns the reason for his mother's long estrangement from her brother, and helps effect a reconciliation. "Refreshingly, Henkes has given us a male protagonist who is reflective, creative and emotionally sensitive," wrote Karen Leggett in The New York Times Book Review. "Ben feels the anguish of his mother's long-simmering bitterness and his uncle's agonizing guilt. Yet at a time when it is almost a fad to blame dysfunctional families for problems, we learn that even though there are never simple answers and not many fairy-tale endings, families can heal."

Though his novels are more complex and serious than his picture books, all Henkes's works suggest an author with deep empathy for the intense emotions of childhood. As a Publisher's Weekly reviewer wrote, "Behind each book is a wide-open heart, one readers can't help but respond to, that makes all of Henkes's books of special value to children."

Good To Know

Henkes's wife, Laura Dronzek, is also an artist. She painted the cover illustration for Henkes' novel Sun and Spoon and illustrated his picture book Oh!.

Henkes has turned down requests to use his mouse characters in a television series, but some of his books are available in video form in Chrysanthemum and More Kevin Henkes Stories. The video's narrators include Meryl Streep, Sarah Jessica Parker and Mary Beth Hurt.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse has been adapted into a stage play.

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    1. Hometown:
      Madison, Wisconsin
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 27, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Racine, Wisconsin
    1. Education:
      University of Wisconsin, Madison
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Blaze

Blaze Werla buried Ortman before breakfast. It was the fifth of July, and already the day was white hot. Blaze peeled off his T-shirt and tossed it on the hard ground. He shoveled quickly and furtively, making a small, neat hole the size of a basketball. When the digging was through, Blaze knelt, and using both arms and cupped hands, filled the hole back up, covering Ortman forever. There was something fierce about the manner in which Blaze worked — the determined line of his mouth, the tension that rippled across his back. Dirt stuck to Blaze's sweaty body like bread crumbs; his damp red hair clung to his forehead in ringlets. Blaze slapped the ground flat with the palms of his hands,making a thudding sound and remembering all the other burials, glancing at the nearby stones that marked them.

Burials. There had been four others before Ortman. (Not counting his mother's.) The small graves formed a partial ring around the huge black locust tree on the hill near the highway behind Blaze's house. First there had been Benny. Then Ajax. Next Ken. Then Harold. And now Ortman. Blaze wondered what he would do once the circle was complete. Where would he bury then? He was ten years old. Would he still need to do this when he was twelve? Fifteen? He hoped not. He was tired of being afraid.

Blaze stood and stamped the dirt over Ortman one last time. He picked up the stone he had chosen earlier that morning and held it for a few seconds, as if it were a large egg containing precious life. He had chosen the stone, because of its markings: pale mossy blotches that lookedlike bull's-eyes. Blaze set the stone down firmly in place. "Goodbye, Ortman," he whispered. Blaze backed up, scratched the scars on his ankles with either foot, ran his dirty hand through his hair, and stared at the grave site until the crescent of stones blurred before him, becoming a broken pearl bracelet around the arm of a tree it bound.

On the way down the hill toward home, Blaze was already creating someone new in his mind to take Ortan's place. Someone who would be big. Someone who would be tall. Someone who would be fearless. Someone who would be everything Blaze was not.

Blaze was slight, with small feet and hands. He thought his fingers resembled birthday candles, especially compared to his father's ample, knuckly ones. At school, Blaze was the shortest student in his class. His identity with many kids from other grades hinged solely upon his size and his red hair. His hair was so distinctive, in fact, that passersby often turned their heads to take notice. His clear blue eyes had a similar effect on people. Freckles peppered Blaze's cheeks and the bridge of his nose. His eyelashes were full and as transparent as fishing line. And — he was fearful.

Blaze swatted at the leafy, waist-high weeds that surrounded him and thought, I am a contradiction — my name is Blaze and I'm afraid of fire. And fire was only the beginning of a long list of things that made Blaze's head prickle just thinking of them.

Fire. Large dogs. Wasps. The dark.

And then there were the other things. The more important things. The really frightening ones. Nightmares. The Ferris wheel at the fairgrounds. The Fourth of July.

Blaze fixed his attention on the drooping slate roof of his house in the near distance. "Come on...Simon, " he said over his shoulder into the warm breeze. "Let's go eat."

"Morning, Blaze," Nova called pleasantly when she heard the screen door open and gently close.

"Morning, Grandma," Blaze said, entering the kitchen. He walked to the sink and began washing his hands methodically with liquid dish soap, making a thick lather that worked its way up his arms. Ortman's dead, he said matter-of-factly in his head, watching a tiny pinkish blue bubble rise from his hands. Now I've got Simon.

Blaze didn't believe in imaginary friends the way he truly had when he was younger. He didn't set places for them at the table or make himself as small as possible in bed to leave room for them. He didn't talk to them out loud when anyone might hear. But every July he formed a new one. It was habit as much as anything else.

In a way, he compared it to Nova's practice of saying "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit" for good luck on the first day of each month. It had to be her first words spoken or else it didn't work. Nova was far from superstitious, and yet, if she forgot to say it, she seemed annoyed with herself all morning.

Blaze also compared it to the relationship his father had with God. Although he had told Blaze many times that he didn't really know what he believed, Glenn said that he prayed every now and then. He talked to God when no one else was around.

Glenn had his version of God. Nova had "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit." And Blaze had Simon.

"Well, what can I get you for breakfast?" Nova asked mildly.

Blaze had been looking out the window toward the hill. He turned and faced his grandmother. "Scrambled eggs, please," he said. And Nova hummed while she made them. At the stove, with her back to Blaze, Nova's wispy moth-colored hair looked just like a dandelion right before you make a wish and blow it. But nothing else about Nova was wispy. She was generous in both size and spirit.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2003

    i didn't like it

    We had to read this book in 6th grade and all I rember about it is it was some crazy kid with imaginary friends meets some weird girl who is loud and freaks the crazy kid out.Then there is the eyelid thing and the tatoos,i personally thought it was super weird

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2002

    A good book

    This book was good. It shows kids the life of an abandoned t\child and two kids friendships.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2001

    Great Book

    This book is soooooooooo good. About Friendship and compation! READ IT, U WILL LOOOOOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2001

    Great Book!

    Words of Stone is a great book for younger youth. It shows how friendship can overcome anything.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2001

    'Words of Stone' Review

    In the 'Words Of Stone' the main characters are two 10-year olds, Blaze and Joselle. When Blaze and Joselle meet they get to be good friends. Joselle's mom ran off with her boyfriend Rick. She left Joselle with her grandma. She told Joselle that she would be visiting the Pacific Ocean but was really home the whole time. Joselle was the one to write the words of stone. She wrote the words with the stones that Blaze marked his imaginary friends graves with when they die. I would rate this book five stars. I loved it! It told me that it was good to be friends with boys and girls. I hope you read this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2001

    Book Review on Words of Stone

    The book 'Words of Stone' is wonderful. I reccommend it to kids 8 and older. It is about a 10 year old boy named Blaze. His mom had died when he was 5 years old. He meets a girl named Joselle and they become best friends. I like this book because it has to do with friendship and in some parts it makes you happy and in some parts it makes you sad so it makes you have all different feelings. I rate this book a 9 1/2. I think you should read this book. It's great!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2000

    Kevin Henkes has another great book!

    Blaze is horrified when he sees that someone has written something with stone on the hill- side, right outside his bedroom window. Blaze knows it had to have been someone trying to make him feel bad. Times are hard for Blaze. His father has a girlfriend, which Blaze dislikes. But Blaze meets a young girl named Joselle, and the two become friends. But a terrible secret makes Blaze deny Joselle. Does friendship last forever? A powerful story from a master.

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