From School Library Journal
Grade 4–6—Ten-year-old Donald is miserable now that his father, the Sergeant, has returned home from World War II and moved the family to a farm in rural Montana, miles away from Wistola. Horrified at the lack of modern conveniences (their ramshackle house has neither electricity nor indoor plumbing) and angry at the Sergeant, Donald secretly plans to run away to Hollywood. However, as time passes, he and his younger brother begin to enjoy country living, riding their elderly horse, skating and playing hockey on a neighbor's frozen slough, romping with their new mutt, and making friends at their one-room schoolhouse. The boys also demonstrate their profound gift for imagination in the games they play outdoors. Donald's first-person narration is filled with humor and wit. Lemna conveys a true sense of farm life and all its difficulties, with each chapter describing the brothers' various adventures. The mood is light and playful throughout, with appropriately serious moments marking the maturity that Donald gains, particularly in his attitude toward his father. The narrative is simple, with a few choice vocabulary words that can be explored through language lessons. The historical references also lend an opportunity for curriculum connections; the book provides an accessible look at post-World War II American life and can initiate study of cultural differences between that era and our 21st-century lives. Well written and entertaining.—Bethany A. Lafferty, Las Vegas-Clark County Library, NV
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*Starred Review* Donald, 10, is happy when his dad returns safely from the war in 1946, but he’s furious when Dad moves the family to a farm in Montana (“he’s ruined my life”). On the farm, he lives surrounded by pigs and chickens, there’s no electricity or plumbing (“just an awful poop pit”), and school is a one-room classroom with 43 kids who play kick-the-can with Donald as the can. Running away to Hollywood seems the only solution. Relayed in Donald’s scrappy, first-person voice, much of this novel reads like a memoir filled with wonderfully irreverent daily details of being raised on the prairies: Donald locks his show-off cousin in the outhouse, tries to knock nails into wood, and finds milking a cow soothing. Eventually, Donald becomes comfortable on the farm, but the hardship is always there, whether in his parents’ monthly struggle to pay the mortgage (he sees his mother cry when they have to sell their wedding rings) or in his daily chores. Illustrated with small, lovely black-and-white drawings, this tale is timeless, each chapter resembling a short story, often with a quiet kick at the end. Grades 4-7. --Hazel Rochman