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Book Review

This realistic fiction book by Gary Paulsen is written for kids ages 9 and up and is published by Scholastic, Inc. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Eleven-year-old Eldon grows up with his brother, Wayne, their parents and two uncles on a rustic Minnesota farm. Each season on the farm presents new experiences, which shape Eldon's view of both farm life and family. Winter is special because the family gathers in the winter room to hear Uncle David's stories, but when Uncle David tells a new story, he loses the respect of Eldon's brother, Wayne — a respect that is restored when Uncle David, unaware that the boys are watching, draws energy from the ground and appears to be youthfully strong, again, at least momentarily.

Christian Beliefs

Uncle David and Uncle Nels each have a Bible on their bedside table. Father thanks God for a meal. Wayne condemns bragging and compares it to lying.

Other Belief Systems

This story begins suggesting that books need to appeal to readers through the use of all five of their senses for stories to come to life. Eldon cryptically muses on where there are spaces between time, the pauses between days that turn into a different season. In one of Uncle David's stories, a kidnapped woman uses magic to enact revenge. Mother says that Uncle David's stories are not necessarily to be believed, but may be fantasy. In a surreal sequence, Uncle David draws power from the ground to make himself young again, and the boys watch in what is described as prayerful worship.

Authority Roles

In Eldon's home, Mother controls the household and finances, while Father works hard on the land and takes every opportunity to involve his sons in what he does. Mother brings lunch to Father while he's working in the field and helps him complete the demands of farm work. Father gently teases his sons but takes a firm stance against their fighting. The boys are expected to stay out of the room their two uncles share. In one of Uncle David's stories, a manager refuses to tolerate an employee's pranks. Later, Wayne accuses Uncle David of boasting about himself in his story, and David responds with only a sad look.


Though no profanity is used in the story, Eldon often uses crude comparisons to describe things on the farm, such as walking through manure so deep it comes up to his crotch or the effect of a horse urinating in a man's ear. Several people are said to have died in bizarre ways — one girl drowns herself in a lake, another is eaten by pigs and a man willfully allows himself to freeze to death. One of Uncle David's stories refers to Vikings killing and kidnapping. The process of slaughtering farm animals is described in graphic detail.


Uncle David has calendar pin-ups of women on his walls, but there is no indication that the pictures contain nudity.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Eldon and Wayne often disagree with each other and sometimes fight. Why do they do that?
  • Choose one situation where they did this.
  • Describe one way that they could have better handled the disagreement.

  • Faith can be hard to understand.

  • What do you think Mother meant when she said Uncle David's stories are not to be believed?
  • How is this type of belief different from faith?

  • What happened in the story of Crazy Allen?

  • How did he turn his own death into a practical joke?
  • What is the problem with practical jokes?
  • Is there anything that you should not joke about?

  • Wayne said bragging is similar to lying.

  • Explain why you agree or disagree with Wayne.

  • Eldon and Wayne lived with their parents and uncles.

  • How would living with your family and extended family in a small house change the way you live now?
  • What are some of the rules this family has and what are some things this family does to get along?
  • What do you think your family and your extended family would have to do to get along?

  • Which of Uncle David's stories did you like the best?

  • What made it special to you?

  • Why did Wayne lose respect for his uncle?

  • How did he react?
  • Who is someone that you have lost respect for?
  • Why did this person lose your respect?

Additional Comments/Notes

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 and up


Gary Paulsen






Record Label



Scholastic, Inc.


On Video

Year Published



Newberry Honor Book, 1990


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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