Saturday, August 8, 2009
by John Reynolds Gardiner
Recommended Ages: 7-12
Stone Fox holds a special place in my family. It was one of the first chapter books all three kids read on their own. They loved the story, even though they were teary at the end.
Little Willy lives with his grandfather on a potato farm in Wyoming. The story begins with the grandfather taking to his bed, quite ill and unable to talk. Willy is concerned but manages to continue on with the chores. One day the tax collector visits them and Willy finds out they owe $500 in back taxes, or they will lose their farm.
So little Willy tries to figure out how to raise the $500. He talks to the bank, his teacher and the general store manager, and receives the same advice from everyone: Sell the Farm. But he's determined to keep the farm in the family. When he's at the store he sees a poster advertising the National Dogsled Race in Jackson Wyoming, with first place prize money of $500. This prompts him into action. He and his dog Searchlight will enter the contest and win the prize money.
For the next week, little Willy and Searchlight go over and over the 10-mile track. Even after a brief encounter with Stone Fox and his five Samoyeds, who are the clear favorites in the race, little Willie and Searchlight plod on, determined to win the $500. Stone Fox is a Native American who has always won the race. They say that he uses the prize money from the races to buy back land so that his people, the Shoshone, can return to their homeland.
The day of the race comes, and I'm not going to say anything further. Suffice it to say, it's a page-turner and a heartbreaker. You won't be disappointed. If your child is reading this alone, I recommend you be on hand. It's a sad ending, but one sure to generate rich conversation.
I think this would be a great book for a third or fourth grade class to read aloud. As I said before, there's a lot to talk about afterward, and little Willy is a strong character who shows determination and grit in the face of adversity. The ending is powerful and there are a few heroes to celebrate.
BookNosher Tidbits: Stone Fox has a few notable mentions including:
a 1981 Notable Book Children's Literature Council of Southern California
1987 Maud Hart Lovelace Reading Project - Minnesota Book Awards;
1987 George G. Stone Center for Children's Book Recognition of Merit Award
BookNosher Activities: There are a lot of sites devoted to classroom activities and Stone Fox. This one from Mountain City Elementary School in Tennessee is comprehensive, and offers both academic and fun activities.