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Friday, August 1, 2014

Pretty good book from that guy who says "We'll leave the light on for you" -- Tom Bodett

Bodett, Tom (1999) Williwaw!  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf.
Ken, a former student of mine (who took Children's Lit but thinks he is going to be a preacher rather than a teacher -- he is sadly confused), every now and then gives me a book that I have never heard of that he wants me to read.  I put it on the bottom of my book pile and eventually it rises to the top.  The most recent book Ken gave me was Williwaw! by  Tom Bodett.
My first thought upon seeing the book was something like "Really?  Tom Bodett, the guy who shills for Motel 6, who is a moderately funny panelist on Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me (The NPR News Quiz) wrote a book for adolescents?  My second thought was, "What the heck is a Williwaw?"
Then two things happened.  First, I heard Bodett on an NPR show telling a story about his young years of estrangement with his parents, running away to Alaska, almost getting electrocuted to death, and making peace with his father.  It was a moving story that made me reevaluate Bodett (who always seemed a bit too folksy for me).  The fact is, he is an excellent storyteller who has some real thoughtfulness to him.  The second thing that happened was I read the book.
It is the story of a brother and sister (Ivan is 12 and his sister September is 13) who live with their father on an island in Alaska, across a bay from a little town.  Their father is a fisherman who keeps in touch with them via short-wave radio.  When Ivan accidentally fries the radio, they take the boat into town to get it fixed (which is against the rules they had agreed on with their dad).  One thing leads to another and soon they are lying to their dad, using a dummy to convince their cranky distant neighbor that their dad is home, and, finally, they find themselves caught in a williwaw (an Alaskan storm -- kind of like a mini-hurricane. 
To be frank, I am not a big fan of stories where people make mistakes, then lie to cover up those mistakes and fall deeper and deeper into a bad situation.  I think I am too much of a first child to really relax in such awkward situations.  Having said that, the brother and sister are likable (as are most of the people in this story) and the story is gripping and has a satisfying ending.  It is worth reading.  I really liked it.
Boys who like Gary Paulsen books and girls who like realistic stories with strong female heroines will like this book.  I would guess we are talking fourth grade through middle school with this one. 

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