This realistic fiction book by Gary Paulsen is written for kids ages 9 and up and is published by Scholastic, Inc. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Eleven-year-old Eldon grows up with his brother, Wayne, their parents and two uncles on a rustic Minnesota farm. Each season on the farm presents new experiences, which shape Eldon's view of both farm life and family. Winter is special because the family gathers in the winter room to hear Uncle David's stories, but when Uncle David tells a new story, he loses the respect of Eldon's brother, Wayne — a respect that is restored when Uncle David, unaware that the boys are watching, draws energy from the ground and appears to be youthfully strong, again, at least momentarily.
Uncle David and Uncle Nels each have a Bible on their bedside table. Father thanks God for a meal. Wayne condemns bragging and compares it to lying.
In Eldon's home, Mother controls the household and finances, while Father works hard on the land and takes every opportunity to involve his sons in what he does. Mother brings lunch to Father while he's working in the field and helps him complete the demands of farm work. Father gently teases his sons but takes a firm stance against their fighting. The boys are expected to stay out of the room their two uncles share. In one of Uncle David's stories, a manager refuses to tolerate an employee's pranks. Later, Wayne accuses Uncle David of boasting about himself in his story, and David responds with only a sad look.
Other belief systems This story begins suggesting that books need to appeal to readers through the use of all five of their senses for stories to come to life. Eldon cryptically muses on where there are spaces between time, the pauses between days that turn into a different season. In one of Uncle David's stories, a kidnapped woman uses magic to enact revenge. Mother says that Uncle David's stories are not necessarily to be believed, but may be fantasy. In a surreal sequence, Uncle David draws power from the ground to make himself young again, and the boys watch in what is described as prayerful worship.
Though no profanity is used in the story, Eldon often uses crude comparisons to describe things on the farm, such as walking through manure so deep it comes up to his crotch or the effect of a horse urinating in a man's ear. Several people are said to have died in bizarre ways — one girl drowns herself in a lake, another is eaten by pigs and a man willfully allows himself to freeze to death. One of Uncle David's stories refers to Vikings killing and kidnapping. The process of slaughtering farm animals is described in graphic detail.
Uncle David has calendar pin-ups of women on his walls, but there is no indication that the pictures contain nudity.
Newberry Honor Book, 1990
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
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