An exciting ecological mystery for tweens featuring a missing 'gator in the Florida Everglades, by Jean Craighead George, the beloved Newbery Medal-winning author of Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain.
Liza Poole lives with her mother in one of the last balanced ecosystems in North America, the Gumbo Limbo Hammock, deep within the lush kingdom of the Florida Everglades. Some may think it strange to live outdoors, but Liza feels lucky to live in her small yellow tent amid tropical birds and exotic plants.
And at the center of this natural paradise lies Dajun, the majestic alligator who protects Gumbo Limbo's environment.
Then, one day, a state official arrives with frightening orders. Dajun is scaring people nearby—he must be killed! Liza takes action to save the invaluable 'gator, but suddenly, he is nowhere to be found. Now she must find Dajun before it's too late, and her search will lead her into the heart of an exciting eco mystery.
About the Author
Jean Craighead George wrote over one hundred books for children and young adults. Her novel Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1973, and she received a 1960 Newbery Honor for My Side of the Mountain. She continued to write acclaimed picture books that celebrate the natural world. Her other books with Wendell Minor include The Wolves Are Back; Luck; Everglades; Arctic Son; Morning, Noon, and Night; and Galapagos George.
Read an Excerpt
On a warm sun-spangled day, a reedy man in a tan cap walked into the woods. I was fishing for bass in Gumbo Limbo Hole and listening to the trade winds chime through the leaves of the royal palm. I didn't see him until he spoke.
“Missy,” he said, “have you seen the big alligator that lives in this lake?”
“You mean Dajun?” I asked enthusiastically as I reeled in my line.
“I don't know what his name is,” the man said. “All I know is that he's ten feet long.”
“That's got to be Dajun,” I said, looking up into a sun-beaten face and keen eyes peering out from under the cap like an armadillo's under his bony armor.
“Only he's twelve feet long, not ten.” I checked my bait, saw it had been chewed off, and put on another shrimp. I cast far out onto the winking surface of the lake.
“Come to think of it,” I said when my sinker hit bottom, “I haven't seen him for a couple of days.”
That was odd. Dajun was always around. He was part of the waterscape at Gumbo Limbo Hole. He would bask on his beach in the morning and bask again in the heat of the afternoon in the cool water, his back, head, and tail exposed to the sun. The rest of the time he was watching for careless fish, turtles, birds, and beasts with only his eyes and nose above the surface of the water. Dajun was swampland royalty. I scanned the lake. He was nowhere to be seen.
“The Pest Control Department hired me,” the man said. “I'm here to shoot him.”
“Shoot him?” I all but shouted. “You can't do that. Alligators are protected by law.”
“Not when they get over eight feet.” He touched the pistol on his hip and sized meup. He took in my five feet one inches, my head of brown corkscrew curls, my freckles, and my blue eyes. He smacked his lips. “The one I'm after can eat a small girl like you in one gulp.” I shrugged to say I didn't believe him.
“I know he could,” he insisted. “I'm an alligator hunter. Made my living hunting these critters until they passed that law about protecting them.”
“But Dajun's not eating anyone,” I said.
“People over there in the condos”he gestured toward the development on the other side of the pineland“filed a complaint. They're afraid of him. I'm surprised to see you here. Ain't you scared?”
“Dajun's not vicious,” I answered, and was about to tell him how a man named James James and I fed the big alligator the snapping turtles we caught in an underwater trap. The turtles kept Dajun fat and happy. I decided not to tell him. This man was an official. I lived in the woods right behind where we were standing. I lived there with Mom and three other people. Outsiders call us “the woods people.” In Florida the weather is so nice that homeless people can camp in the woods. By nature, we all feel uncomfortable around officials. Our group had never been told to leave, but that's because nobody knew we lived in these woods. Word of the terrible Dajun kept people away. He was the dragon protecting our gate.
As unobtrusively as I could, I searched under the coco plum branches that hung out over the water.
I was looking for the huge woody knots that are Dajun's eyes and nose. I couldn't find them and hoped he was on the bottom of the lake. He might well have been. The official was carrying a gun. A person who carries a gun acts aggressively. Animals sense this and disappear. Last week a policeman with a gun rounded the hole. Dajun sank and, closing the water above him without a ripple, was gone.
The official, Travisat least that was the name embroidered on his green shirt'watched me reel in my line and cast again.
“Pretty good for a girl,” he said. Such uneducated statements make Mom and me furious, but I said nothing. I didn't want to start an argument that would hold him there one minute longer than need be. I bit my tongue and cast again.
Travis went about his work. He walked around the jungly shore of Gumbo Limbo Hole as best he could. He finally stopped where the pickerelweed grew tall.
There he scanned the water surface. From where he stood, he could see the entire hole or lake, whatever you prefer to call our two acres of crystal water. He could see all kinds of birdscoots, gallinules, an anhinga, and two great egretsbut not the alligator. Travis made some notes in a notebook and came back.
“Is that Dajun's sunning spot over there?” he asked. He pointed to the white gently sloping beach that the alligator had made by sliding in and out of the water.
I told him it was, but right away I was sorry I had. All this man had to do was to stand where he was long enough, and Dajun would eventually come ashore to bask in the winter sunshine. I cast again, then searched the dark lily pads for Dajun's nose. He's hard to see when he's in the pads, because his nostrils are open and dark as the leaves. He closes them when he dives. Three feet back of those nostrils would be the horny coverings around his yellow eyes. Together with his nose, they make a triangle of bumps on the top of the water. They say “alligator.” Only when it's very cold does he stick just his nose out, and cold weather is rare in southern Florida.
Dajun wasn't in the lily pads.
Travis fingered his gun. Desperately I plotted.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great children's ecological mystery. Evokes discussions related to numerous science concepts. Characters are leery likable. I wish there was a sequel!
I had to read this book 2 years ago for a school assignment. I hated it. It is the worst book I ever read. The story line was boring. Save yourself some money and don't buy!
This is a good book!!
it was a totally enchanting book, I liked it because it's very mystereous annd exciting!!!!!! I think you would really like it if you are like my teacher and then you can stop reading at all the suspencful pionts in this book. To make it short I thouight that thisi book was an amazing book!!!
I love this book.We 'r' reading this in my science class.Here, Liza K. and her mom--escaping abusive dad--live in a tent on an island- like hammock (a raised area with a unique habitat) in the Everglades. Nearby are other homeless, including ``James James,'' Vietnam vet and expert naturalist, as well as an oversized alligator, Dajun, endangered by a Pest Control official who's out to shoot him. Though nearby condos spew pollutants, Dajun's natural behavior keeps his pool clean. Aware of the hunter, Dajun hides Liza K. and friends try to find him to lure him to safety. The natural history steals the show here, as George intended. Liza K.'s expertise on the functions of almost every bush, bird, and bug stretch credulity still, a kid who is both gifted and dedicated can learn a lot, and she has a fine resource in James James.
This was, and still is, one of my favorite books, even though I'm 19! To some the plot may seem silly, but the mystery is woven so well and the conclusion, though not completely satisfying, is more mature as it is not a fairy tale ending. To any who love a mystery, and especially those who love nature, this will be an enjoyable book. Adults, don't shy away from this book just because it's in the kids section! The only question I have is this: as in the book the alligator is referred to as a 'dragon' a few times, is that what the name 'Dajun' means? Even without knowing that I still love this book!
I read this book for a school assingment. I thought that this book was very simple to read. I think that this book was rather disappointing compared to other books by Jean Craighead George.
My sixth grade class is reading this book for literature. I don't think it's great, but around an average book. It is very easy reading. I love mystery books, but I didn't personally enjoy this one as much as I have others such as the Nancy Drew series, or other single books that are really good.
This book is about people who get a long together as a family. Dajun is like the body gaurd of them and Gumbo Limbo Hammock. Sherlock Holmes really saved the day in this book, but it was Liza K. who used her brains and figured it out. This is a great book for all ages.