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Taking Wing Hardcover – May 23, 2005
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–In 1942, Gus, 13, is sent to his grandparents' farm in Vermont. His father is in the army; his mother is recuperating from tuberculosis. Throughout the summer, he mothers a group of orphaned wild ducks, learning responsibility and experiencing heartache with the deaths of all but one of them. He enthusiastically learns to shoot his grandfather's guns, but is then forced to face the larger questions about killing–killing for food, for protection, and in war. He also faces his grandparents' and the community's prejudice when he befriends Louise Lavictoire and her family, their French-Canadian neighbors. By fall, Gus sadly realizes that his one remaining duck must "take wing," and that in some ways he, too, must do the same. He discovers strengths and weaknesses in himself and others, and finally realizes that his beliefs, his actions, and his mistakes are his own to acknowledge and to right, if necessary. The book's pace is slow, particularly in the beginning. But as the characters develop, so does interest in the story. Conversation is natural, and the clear descriptions create an accurate picture of the place and time. Historical facts are woven into the story line, although at times seem to be excuses to include information. This book will appeal to readers looking for quiet, pensive characters and story.–Carolyn Janssen, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Gr. 5-8. Gus, 13, is making the best of his new home. With his father at flight school and his mother in a TB sanitarium, Gus must spend several months during 1942 at his grandparents' isolated farm in Vermont The only potential friend nearby is Louise Lavictoire, the daughter of French-Canadian immigrants who are reviled by the locals for their poverty, numerous children, and because they "pray to the Pope." Writing with clarity that is as firm and stoic as Gus' grandparents, Graff takes readers back to a time when children were expected to live up to family values, hard work was part of the natural order, and prejudice was unapologetic. The book opens as Gus' grandfather accidentally kills a mother duck, leaving Gus to care for the eggs and for the hatchlings as they grow. The lives (and deaths) of the ducklings are threaded throughout the story, amplifying other events and giving them an enduring, sometimes unsettling resonance. Although some of the scenes--for example, one at a county fair, are stock, others, such as the detailed skinning of a hog, are not. At her best, Graff captures what is different about a time gone by and illuminates what remains the same. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The pace of the novel echoes the natural rhythms of farm life. Gus grows slowly into the role of caretaker for the ducks and by the time they hatch, he's assumed other farm chores such as gardening in his grandmother's large vegetable garden and helping the Lavictoires bring in their hay. Along the way he learns to shoot a gun and participates in a hog's slaughter for meat. But trouble begins to brew, beginning when Gus 'borrows' money from his grandmother to buy vitamins for Louise and then lies to cover his actions.
The plot of this novel is organic, arising naturally from the characters and the nature of their lives on a farm during WWII. When Gus faces a crisis which involves both the ducks, the Lavictoires, and the gun he has learned to shoot, the reader has been drawn into the story in a manner that is both seamless and yet shocking. The strength of character that Gus has been growing in pace with the ducks is sorely tested, but the way he resolves the conflict is satisfying and believable.
When I closed the last page of this novel, I was sorry to leave the characters behind. I'd grown to feel at home in their world and wanted to know more about their lives. The ending left no loose ends, but I would welcome a sequel. Gus is a memorable young boy who develops during the course of a story into an admirable young man with a quiet, impressive strength.
Overall, a well-done story that will linger in your mind long after you have finished. A great story for teachers to read aloud as part of a curriculum study of the WWII era, as it presents a chance for discussions of values on many levels.