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The Devil's Paintbox Hardcover – January 13, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (January 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375837507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375837500
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,252,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set in 1865, McKernan's (Shackleton's Stowaway) gripping novel follows the westward journey of 16-year-old Aiden, with his younger sister, Maddie, from their late parents' farm in Kansas. Harsh conditions and a devastating fire have prompted the exodus of most of the townsfolk, and the siblings have nearly starved to death when the story begins. New opportunity comes in the form of a wagon train and its guide, who offers Aiden a chance to pay off the cost of his and Maddie's trip with labor at a logging camp. Traveling across the country and deep into Aiden's experiences of despair and hope reborn, McKernan's supple prose (a bowl of jam shimmers in the sun like a pot of melted rubies) immerses readers in a sometimes brutal history; a story line about the threat to Indians from smallpox (the devil's paintbox) and the policy of denying them vaccines, builds to a powerful conclusion. Flawless attention to detail and steady pacing keep readers fully engaged. While the Indians Aiden meets may come off idealized, the other characters are fully fledged. Readers will be riveted. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 6–9—Orphans Aiden and Maddy, 15 and 13, are starving on what's left of their parents' drought-devastated ranch in Kansas, 1866. When a gruff yet likable trail guide, Jefferson J. Jackson, shows up, Aiden indentures himself as a logger in exchange for their passage to a new life in the Pacific Northwest via wagon train. What ensues is a harrowing journey across the continent during which Aiden is not only physically challenged but also beset by personal tragedy and moral conflict involving a group of Nez Perce Indians. The plot ultimately revolves around his interaction with his Native friend, Tupic, and the tribe's quest to get the vaccine for the smallpox virus, or "the devil's paintbox." This carefully researched novel describes actual historical events, such as the Sand Creek massacre, and includes an author's note about the controversy over whether or not Native Americans were deliberately infected with the virus. References to abortion, alcohol, and drug use (such as opium and laudanum), and a brief encounter with a prostitute, make this a vivid yet still teen-friendly read depicting the harsh realities of frontier life. The interactions between Aiden and Tupic, though somewhat unlikely, are fascinating as are the descriptions of life in an early lumber camp. This action-packed novel has all the elements of a good Western, including lively fight scenes and a main character who becomes a rugged individualist, risking life and limb for a cause he believes in. Fans of wilderness survival stories or adventure sagas will appreciate it most.—Madeline J. Bryant, Los Angeles Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

He was absolutely enthalled, as was I. We cried and laughed together.
Jill T.
My son recommended this book and I am really glad that I ordered and read it.
Thea
Ideally, I think, it should be read with a smart pre-teen or an adolescent.
Jeffrey Sharlet

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Sharlet on February 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Devil's Paintbox is a handsomely made novel with the power of a John Ford western and the same deep insight into young people and adventure I find in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. That this is a novel ostensibly written for young people shouldn't deter adults. Like Pullman's work, this is simply fine literature. Ideally, I think, it should be read with a smart pre-teen or an adolescent. I picked it up because I'm familiar with McKernan's "adult" work, but I'll be sending a copy to my nephew and stocking a copy away for when my own child is old enough to read it. The Devil's Paintbox won't please parents who want sugar coated stories for their children -- this is a realistic portrayal of the old West, of disease, of fear, and of courage. It's written with humor and lyrical attention to detail on every page. ("Down in the valleys, they lived in shadows with no horizons, the sun only dappled light through the trees.") It's not a difficult book, but a challenging one -- the best kind. I imagine young readers will remember into adulthood, as I still remember the Narnia and the Tolkien books and novels like A Separate Peace.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jill T. on January 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
While some of the content is for a little older audience (which I edited for my 7 year old), I read this book to my 7 year old for our evening read. He was absolutely enthalled, as was I. We cried and laughed together. We wondered how much more hardship this young person could endure. We talked about the treatment of the indiginous people. We tracked the travel on the Oregon Trail on his big wall map. We discussed the Civil War. This book offered so much that at the end my 7 year old declared it to be one of the best books ever (and it is competing with the Lightning Thief series) and that he would like to read it again when he gets older. That I think is the best review any book can get.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Joy Mortensen on July 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read a glowing review of the book, so I decided to try it. What a great story! The book reads quickly, as there is a contiuous series of incidents to maintain the reader's interest. Although it might be unsuitable to use in class at the middles grade level, it would be OK for grade 9+. A great addition to a Pioneer unit or as a suggestion for boys.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tina on February 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I am not a big fan of any novel set in the West - but I made an exception this time because I thought the storyline sounded very interesting.

I was right! Devil's Paintbox is way beyond the basics of a "western" novel. The storyline is very deep and moving and the main characters are extremely well drawn up and are vivid in the storyline.

The basic storyline features Jefferson Jackson and the novel is set in 1865 on the Oregon Trail. We find Jackson meeting up with two orphans who are desperately trying to survive. Striking a deal with them, Jackson finds himself involved with Maddie and Aiden and all three of them will learn some important life lessons as they board the wagon train and try to survive in the rough terrain that is the Oregon Trail.

While this novel does describe the harsh ways of the time period, it also does a fine job of focusing on its main characters and is definitely a character driven storyline.

I enjoyed reading this book way more than I thought I would and I am happy that I decided to "take a chance on it".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on September 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Gold Star Award Winner!

As the only surviving members of their family, 15-year-old Aiden Lynch and his sister, Maddy, have barely made it through the harsh winter alone. Not much remains in their part of Kansas after the flood and the fires, and the two are reduced to living off clay from the river and the occasional grasshopper.

It's been five months since they've seen another human being, so when Jefferson J. Jackson arrives on their land, looking for leftover sodbusters to work in the lumber camps of Seattle, Aiden can hardly believe it. With the news that the Civil War has ended, along with Aiden's only hope of joining the army to provide for himself and his sister, their lack of choice is clear, and the two manage to convince Jackson to take them along.

Brother and sister thrive and even make a few friends during their journey with Jackson's wagon train - Aiden with the Nez Pearce Indian, Tupic, and Maddy with the haunted doctor, Carlos. The two dare to dream of the lives they will create for themselves once Aiden's term of indenture is over, but there are many ways to die on the Oregon Trail, and hardship strikes the Jackson train many times over.

Once the train trail splits off and everyone goes their respective ways, Aiden loses himself in the mindless work of the lumber camps, cutting himself off from all emotion. When Tupic tells him of the horrible plague of small pox that has invaded the Indian community, Aiden must decide whether he will continue to hide from all responsibility, or if he will bother to fight for a cause that may already be lost.

This achingly emotional story explores some of the hardships that surrounded the travels of pioneers on the Oregon Trail and the myths that remain of the American government's approach toward Native Americans and small pox. Bittersweet and raw, this is one historical tale that will stay with the reader for a long time afterward.

Reviewed by: Allison Fraclose
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Teen Reads on March 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Fifteen-year-old Aiden Lynch and his 13-year-old sister, Maddy, are down at the creek, looking for mud to eat. If Aiden can find a grasshopper for dinner, they will consider it a feast. The only relief from their dirt and insect diet is the "corn jelly meat" they make from their meager stores of cornmeal, but now they each have only a bite left. Aiden reflects, wistfully, that it takes longer to starve to death than he would have expected.

The two are all alone in their family's house on the burned out, barren Kansas prairie since the last of their family died. The neighbors have packed up and moved on, they have no relatives, and the town that once was four miles away has been deserted. Aiden doesn't know what to do. He's not old enough to join the army; besides, he can't leave Maddy all on her own.

Suddenly, Aiden spots a grasshopper. He prepares to catch it when a voice startles him: "Damn, boy. What the hell are you doing?" The man is Jefferson J. Jackson. He's looking for men to work in the lumber camps in Seattle, Washington, traveling there with his wagon train via the Oregon Trail. Despite Aiden's initial suspicion of Jackson's intentions, chatty Maddy invites him into their home. Jackson is a gruff, hard man, but he has a gentle heart. When he hears of the Lynches' situation, he allows Aiden to persuade him to take the siblings along to Seattle, although he warns them of the hardships they're sure to encounter along the 2,000-mile walk ahead of them. When they reach Seattle, Aiden will work in the lumber camps in order to pay Jackson $200 --- the price of traveling with Jackson's wagon train.

When they arrive at the wagon train camp, a party is in full swing. There's plenty of food; the sight of actual jam and butter move Maddy to tears.
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