by Marguerite Henry
Listening age: 5+ Parental discretion advised for theme and language
We loved this book from start to finish! Truly, some of the best literature for children is wrapped around animal stories. Of course, Marguerite Henry is not an unknown author to the genre; I know there is at least a trilogy of horse stories on my shelf--but until now, I don't think I'd had the pleasure of reading any of them.
The story is about a real burro who lived around the start of the 20th century and helped carve out the path down the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Unknown to me as I read--and confirmed by my on-line research since--is that most every person and detail in the story line is true!
Henry's account of Brighty begins with a story of greed and murder that is so skillfully narrated by the author, that we, the readers, are allowed to connect the dots for ourselves before the other characters in the book feed the discovery to us. There are no gratuitous details of the crime, which I appreciated very much.
Only some portion of the remainder of the book was dedicated to the tracking and capture of the murderer, but as such, included many gritty, suspenseful moments. Don't worry, though! None unduly frightened even my most sensitive girl; I can only imagine that boys will like it even better! (You can preview the suspense for yourself starting in chapter 23; there is some weapon wielding that happens in chapter 28, and again at the end of chapter 30, into 31.)
My advice is that you don't let poor spellers or young students read this book to themselves; there are too many moments of phonetic spelling to confuse them, i.e., "yer" for your; "extry" for extra; "goin'" for going, "ain't" for aren't; "nacherel" for natural.
Another concern in letting children read this book for themselves is the bad language--none that would raise an eyebrow by today's standards, possibly, but there is the occasional mild expletive and the frequent use of the biblical name for a donkey (which I, personally, wouldn't want my young and impressionable child to mimic in today's climate--so I censor).
But enough of the bad!
The storyline weaved some very exciting real-life learning moments into the narrative. There is American history in the form of intersections with the rough-riding Teddy Roosevelt; engineering by way of construction of a suspension bridge over the Colorado River, and first aid and survival skills learned through the hardships of being snowbound.
But my very favorite chapter was chapter 20, titled, "Well Done!" in which a surprisingly bold Christian theme comes to the fore--voiced by the humblest of characters. Beautiful. *sigh*
Oh! And the subtle elements of detective work toward the capture of the murderer gave even my youngest children an opportunity to exercise their logic muscle. Marguerite Henry is a master of her craft, and I'm so glad to have discovered this book.
I give this book an "A."