Winter Danger

William O. Steele
Harcourt - Odyssey
Number of pages: 
183 pages
Grade / Age level: 

This is a somewhat unusual, but highly rewarding story of a half-wild woodsman (who "lived by the woods. He had no trade, he couldn't farm a lick or keep a store or run a tavern. All he knew to do was follow the bear and deer through the woods and sleep in caves and hollow trees.") and his eleven year old son Caje. Caje and his father travel through the wilderness - living off the land and escaping from unfriendly Indians. Although Caje would love to settle down in a real house among civilized people, his father is happier in the woods and frets about being "beholden to others". In the past Caje traveled with both of his parents throughout the warmer seasons and they all settled down in an abandoned house or with relatives during the winter. Now that Caje's mother has died, though, his father wants to stick to the wilds, even through the winter. They begin seeing signs, though, that the winter will be particularly bad and decide to go stay with Caje's aunt and uncle. Disgusted with "soft" living and feeling out of place, Caje's father leaves to spend the winter on his own. Now Caje is in an awkward position - he has the home and company he has so long desired, but lacks the skills to earn his keep (as he sees it). The winter gets really harsh as record cold spells and lack of good hunting take their toll on the family. The situation becomes more desperate when the family cow is killed by a hungry panther and Caje's uncle is seriously injured in a fall. Caje worries more and more that he is taking food away from the family, until he finally discovers how he can help the family out. Even after this great help he provides, he comes to realize that it isn't tallying up what we do for each other that really matters.

As an adventure and historical tale, this is a great read, but it offers a deeper level too. The story touches upon some very essential points about the purpose of civilization, family and loving one's neighbor. This is a fairly easy read for 2nd or 3rd grade and up but would also make a great read-aloud.

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