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The Devil's Paintbox Hardcover

4.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Victoria McKernan is the author of the acclaimed Shackleton's Stowaway, a historical novel for young adults about the eighteen-year-old stowaway on Ernest Shackleton's 1914 expedition to the South Pole. She has also written four novels for adults. She is currently at work on her next novel for young readers.

Victoria McKernan lives in Washington, D.C., with a dog, two cats, and one boa constrictor.
  --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006CDRMYQ
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,267,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This action-packed novel set in 1865 will appeal to fans of wilderness survival stories or historical adventures. Teenage siblings Aiden and Maddy are on the verge of starvation in Kansas when they are given the opportunity to join a wagon train traveling west on the Oregon Trail. What happens next is a harrowing journey as Aiden is beset by physical challenges and personal tragedy. Aiden becomes friends with a native his age, Tupic, and there is conflict arising from the tribe’s quest to obtain the vaccine for smallbox, otherwise known as “the Devil’s Paintbox”.

The vivid depictions of the harsh life on the frontier and in a lumber camp are accurately portrayed. The characters are well-drawn. The attention to detail and beautiful prose, as well as steady pacing, kept my interest throughout the novel. Aiden’s story continues in the sequel, “Son of Fortune”.
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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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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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Format: Library Binding Verified Purchase
I bought this to use in my middle school classroom library, for the boys who like the western genre. I'm glad I read it before recommending it, because there are graphic details of life on the wagon train that some students may not be mature enough to handle.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My son recommended this book and I am really glad that I ordered and read it. It was not at all what I expected and the losses in the book were more than I had thought there would be. It seemed very realistic
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I thought this was an enjoyable read and overall, I thought it was well written. Unfortunately, my son won't be reading it in the next few years. I bought it for my 13 year old son to read as we studied westward expansion. I rarely pre-read his books, but I decided to with this one and I'm glad I did. Personally, I was a bit disappointed with the way the women in the logging camp were handled and felt that it was a bit too much for middle school age. I definitely would not recommend using it in a class setting. When the repeated references to the "whores" and the work that they did began in the last 1/3 of the book, I was hopeful that maybe we could just skip a chapter and still enjoy the best parts of the story. However, the theme was woven through several chapters and it was too much to just edit out without loosing a big part of the story line. I realize that I may be more conservative than many in my values, but I will say that if you are a parent who is sensitive to topics like prostitutes and how they meet the physical needs of men, you might want to skip this one.
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