Book Review – Smoky the Cowhorse

For those not familiar with “Smoky,” the tale follows a horse named Smoky, who was born on the range, wild and free. His first few years are spent frolicking along with his mother and other horses in his herd. From beating off aggressive, older horses to escaping from hungry wolves, Smoky has many experiences that help shape him as a horse, and make him a strong horse who knows how to survive.

Other than being captured as a youngster with the rest of the herd so all the foals can be branded with the Rocking R ranch’s mark, Smoky has no contact with humans until it is time for him to be “broke” and made into a proper cowpony. The “breaking” of the range horses is harsh and eventually wears Smoky down, so that he can be ridden, but only by Clint, the man who broke him and who rides/breaks all the young horses at the ranch. Clint and Smoky come to an understanding and while Smoky frequently bucks, and bucks so strongly that no other man can ride him, Clint likes the horse’s feistiness. Smoky also has uncanny cow skills and quickly proves invaluable to Clint and the Rocking R.

Every fall, after the annual roundup is complete, all the cowponies are set free to roam the range until spring. It is during one of these winters that Smoky and the band of horses he is with are stolen by someone from south of the border. Lost to the Rocking R, Smoky proves unrideable and is eventually sold to a rodeo outfit. It is here that Smoky is known as “The Cougar” – a bronc nobody can ride. While Clint searches for his beloved horse, Smoky goes through a series of careers and owners.

Smoky is a classic in the world of horse books and if you’re a fan of this genre, you really should read this book. There’s a reason it was made into a movie (twice) as well as a winner of the Newbery. The only caveat is that, because it was written by a true cowboy, back in the 20’s, it is both dated in the way the horses are handled, the way different people are treated, and the “cowboy speak” that uses mixed tenses, poor grammar, and misspellings (crethure for creature; eddication for education), that are frequent, but at least consistent. It takes a few chapters to get used to the unusual language, and if you stick with it, the reward will be well worth it. The story is interesting and will frequently pull at your heartstrings.

Quill says: A true classic that every horse lover should read.

The Pigman by Paul Zindel – Book Review

John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen interact as any teenagers who are not overwhelmed by the problems that beset them but deal with them as they come, sometimes not just one at a time. They alternate writing chapters to inject a multiple view of the same situation with pleasing variety. It is not unlike listening to two students eagerly revealing their escapades. The Pigman himself is not so much a character as he is an ideal personified in the body of Angelo Pignati.

But, it is clear that what the Pigman represents is transiently dynamic replaceable by any stimulus which has as its goal the acquisition of self-identity. It was by assisted chance that Lorraine selected the name during their random telephone marathon, but Angelo Pignati became an integral part of the youths’transitions from children to young adults. The Pigman, despite his wry humor indicative of regression to second childhood, issues profound challenges that test the perceptivity of John and Lorraine concerning their values. The combination of young innocence and aged experience fulfills both sets of needs for parental bonding sorely lacking in John and all too weak with Lorraine.

The revelation of the loss of the Pigman’s wife only heightens the need for this bond. The importance of honesty in any relationship is brought to light as Lorraine and John struggle with the decision whether or not to reveal to Mr. Pignati the truth about their chance meeting. He, however, is a master psychologist and knows how to extract from the unwary couple their subconscious aspirations. The negative parental images are not fiction; they recreate Paul Zindel’s own conflicts in his novel personae reflected not only in this story but also forming the common thread throughout his others.

As is so true to life, the depth of feeling for the Pigman is not realized until the pain they inflict on him is complete, albeit unintentional. It takes his inevitable death to punctuate the severity of their loss. It is not unintentional that similar images, like baboons, are replete throughout Zindel’s stories. They are meaningful to him and should be as significant to the readers no matter what their age might be.

Evaluation: Paul Zindel knows children, their problems, and some solutions. He doesn’t offer the answers to questions like Where am I going? but opens the child’s mind to possibilities that must be answered by the child himself. The story addresses peer problems concerning interpersonal relationships without wallowing in blatant sexuality, family ties, friendship, and death. But, the primary thrust of this story is personal identity at an age when individuality is so difficult to assert.

Recommendation: This story is appropriate for any student who can pick up the book and read with minimal effort. It is more than a tale of misadventure and emotion; it is a commentary on human behavior between family members, peers, and children with adults.

Teaching: The style of this narrative opens avenues for creativity not only for exploring other models based on the alternate writer method but also for answering questions addressed in the plot: Who is YOUR pigman? Where are YOU going? What is important to YOU? Different classes could take the same test the Pigman gave to Lorraine and John with the boatman and the assassin. Variations on that same theme, looking for personal values, may provide incredible insight into the personalities of students and teachers alike.

A Book Review of The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

One word I can describe this book: TENSE. Yes, it’s so tense I cannot recommend it for a toilet read.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in a trilogy (Chaos Walking Trilogy), and the first YA book written by the author.

I do not know how to begin saying how much I like this book. From its characters, the plot, the writing style. It is just…forgive me for raving like an energetic teen…EFFIN AWESOME! And to think that I have not read a lot of Young-Adult Fiction, much more Dystopian YA. Which explains why I only got to read this now, when all other fans have already recovered from the frenzy of having completed all the 3 books.

The Knife Of Never Letting Go is told from the viewpoint of 12 year-old Todd Hewitt, who lives in Prentisstown, a town in the New World, where people can hear each other’s thoughts they call the Noise. Todd has only 30 more days to go before he becomes officially a man, but before he does, he suddenly finds himself being driven away by his parents from the town to escape the town’s army. But how far can you really get to escape when your thoughts can be heard by your pursuers?

Patrick Ness has created a unique, novel idea of a world where everybody hears everybody’s thoughts. And for this apparently original idea alone, I can easily give the book the 5 stars. But of course, there are still the almost-man Todd, who is as strong a character as he is real, and Viola, the mysterious Noiseless girl, plus the presence of very effective, very evil antagonists, Aaron and the Prentiss father-son tandem. You wrap them all up together with a very brilliant writing style and technique, and you have in your hands one excellent story.

Another thing that has made me fall in love quickly about The Knife Of Never Letting Go is Manchee, the talking dog. I absolutely love dogs, and the presence of Manchee as Todd’s sidekick is such a delight, and his loyalty to Todd (Ow, Todd? Food, Todd?) tugs at my heartstrings and brings tears to my eyes.

The Knife Of Never Letting Go is so full of hide-and-seek action, taut suspense, and mind boggling plot twists, you just cannot let go until you get to the last page. It made my chest constrict and pulled up my blood pressure (I’m only guessing), and after I turned the last page, I had this crazy urge to go to the bookstore and buy the rest of the books in the series. Except that it’s already past midnight and I have yet to get some sleep. It is full, too, of creachers, effins, yers and -shuns, but you have to read the book to understand what I’m saying.

Dystopian fiction may not be an absolute favorite in my case (so far I’ve only read The Hunger Games and Stephen King’s The Running Man) but I am definitely adding up The Knife Of Never Letting Go to my short list.

5 stars. Absolutely.