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The Wanigan: A Life on the River Hardcover – April 9, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Whelan (Angel on the Square) whisks readers to the wilds of a northern Michigan lumber camp in this brief, evocative novel. After 11-year-old Annabel Lee's parents sell their house in Detroit for what proves to be a worthless farm in the wilderness, Annabel's father must take a job as a lumberjack. The heroine does not take kindly to the logging camp: "I did all that I could to raise myself above my sad surroundings." Jimmy McGuire, the motherless son of one of the loggers and camp chore boy, soon dubs her Princess Annie. Things only get worse when her father is chosen to shepherd the logs downriver to Lake Huron, and Annabel and her mother are consigned to the wanigan, a floating cookhouse that accompanies the men. Using the trip downriver as a metaphor for Annabel's own inner journey, Whelan crafts an engaging tale, skillfully conjuring the time period and setting as she weaves in information about the 19th-century timber industry and natural history of the region. As the narrator comes to appreciate the ever-changing landscape and the rough-hewn crew (she dots all of her observations with frequent allusions to her favorite author, "Mr. Edgar Allan Poe" ), she emerges as an immensely likable and fully realized character, one with whom readers will readily sympathize. Final artwork not seen by PW. Ages 8-12.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grades 3-6--An overview of life on a floating chuck wagon for American loggers in the 1870s. Eleven-year-old Annabel Lee initially disdains the ramshackle hut in which she and her mother live and work for three months during Michigan's logging season. But as the story progresses, the girl adapts to her living conditions and the rough manners of the lumberjacks on the river. Unfortunately, her narrative voice does not come across as that of a preadolescent, no matter how prim and prissy her character is supposed to be. She refers to the men and their habits as "inelegant," their company as "unrefined," and frequently waxes sentimental over the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, a habit that quickly becomes cloying and contrived. The lumberjacks are poorly realized stereotypes, including a boisterous French Canadian called "Frenchy" and a taciturn Native American nicknamed "Big Tom." The narration is at its best when Annabel describes the loggers' daily routines. Readers learn that they slathered their feet with layers of lard to keep them dry, and that they had many different titles: sawyer, sprinkler, swamper, skidder. These details are interesting and ring truer than Annabel's maudlin poetry recitations. Make this a supplemental purchase if first-person narratives about the pioneer spirit are popular.
Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 810L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 135 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (April 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375814299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375814297
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,534,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Compelling as well as useful, THE WANIGAN, A LIFE ON THE RIVER, is a vivid description of the late 19th-century felling of Michigan's pine forests: how it was done; who the workers were; how they lived. Annabel, THE WANIGAN'S 11-year old narrator, is the priggish but spirited daughter of a lumberjack and his assistant-to-the-camp-cook wife. Annabel and Jimmy, the 12 year-old camp chore boy, go along when the year's crop of logs gets shepherded down river toward the sawmills by their fathers' crew. Annabel's mother is cook for the journey; she and Annabel live and cook in the crew's floating kitchen, or wanigan.
The gruelling 3-month journey has a tidy share of griefs and alarms. Annabel must face the fact that a pie-eating raccoon is not a pet to keep in a kitchen, even were this "kitchen" not doubling as her and her mother's sleeping quarters. (Bereft in her one-room waterborne shack, poor Annabel dreams that she has "a castle full of well-behaved raccoons.") Forest fire threaten to leap the river and make ashes of the journeyers, all but helpless in midstream. Murderous log
rustlers are thwarted only by the quick thinking and courage of Jimmy and Annabel. (Unpolished Jimmy, at first disdained by the prim Annabel, is her good friend by journey's end.)
As to lumbering's cost to Michigan, Gloria Whelan's book is neither preachy nor insensitive. Annabel's father, a displaced city man who has seen better days and means to see more, takes on his dangerous job to provide a home for his family. Native of the region Tom Johnson,an Indian, as Annabel calls him (tribe means nothing to her), refers obliquely once or twice to the sadness of the changes he has seen, and goes on logging: it's his living.
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Format: Hardcover
Although I always give Gloria Whelan 5 stars, because she writes beautifully, and I did enjoy reading this book, I was vaguely dissatisfied with something I am not sure I can pinpoint. Character development? The heroine did learn to approach the uncultured son of one of the loggers with some better understanding of him and herself, but there was no lasting relationship or even much regret that she would never see him again as they left the lumber job behind. And since the family was returning to a house in town, would they be any different than they were before they tried farming and lost everything and then had to survive the logging job? There wasn't as much intrigue in the plot as in most Whelan books. The book was shorter so maybe I am reacting to less movement from beginning to end because there was just less book. As always, Ms. Whelan does a bang-up job of presenting a slice of obscure history in a story. As a history lesson alone, her books are worth the read.
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By Mary Jane on April 20, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
It was an interesting story but there was no depth. I felt it would be a good book for a Middle School student.
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