Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mr. Tucket (The Tucket Adventures #1) by Gary Paulsen

Here's a humdinger of a present. Fourteen-year-old Francis gets a rifle for his birthday as his family heads west on a wagon train to Oregon. Can you imagine good ole dad giving you a rifle? Things were a bit different as the western frontier grew in the United States. Wherever I work as a librarian Taiwan or Spain or the plains of North Dakota, students of all ages are fascinated by weapons. Shucks, I am too. I remember wanting to see what it would be like to shoot a rifle so I signed my husband and me up for a summer biathlon. He thought it odd until I explained I wanted to write a murder mystery and thought firing a gun would be inspirational. "Let's give it a shot," I deadpanned. He laughed and said, "Why not?" True love. That was about 25 years ago. I still haven't written a mystery but the experience was a blast. We ran a 10K and shot with rifles at 5 targets in a prone and a standing position. Each station had an expert who walked me through the shooting process. I laid on my stomach, lined up the target, and pulled the trigger watching the empty cartridge shell fly out of the chamber. "Cool!" I said to the expert next to me. "Look at the smoke trail!" He smiled at my giddiness. Francis gets his gun, has the same giddiness as me, heads out to practice, and winds up captured by Pawnee Indians. Yikes!

The action adventure never lets up as Francis escapes the Pawnees with the help of a mountain man, Mr. Grimes. The two travel together and Francis learns to trap and shoot a rifle. Mr. Grimes won't use his first name, but always calls Francis, "Mr. Tucket." This signifies Francis becoming a man and growing up into a man. He not only learns to use the rifle to take an animal's life, survives blizzards, Indian attacks, and more, he learns that he is more comfortable with the farming life he grew up in with his family versus the trapper life Mr. Grime's exposes him too and its different set of rules.

This story is less than 200 pages and loaded with action. There isn't much depth to the Native American issue, but the author does make it clear that Native Americans' such as the Pawnee warrior, Braid, didn't attack white settlers in wagon trains until they started to take their lands. Mr. Grimes says that he doesn't side with the whites or the Indians, but his actions at the end show he has adopted more of the Indian culture than he first let on to when talking with Francis. He's an interesting character and I wished the ending hadn't been quite so abrupt. This is the first of a series so perhaps Mr. Grimes makes an appearance in later books and maybe Francis elaborates more on his actions.

I find it hard to recommend Western books to young readers that are not too hard. Carolyn Lawrence has "The Case of the Deadly Desperados" but it is 100 pages longer than "Mr. Tucket." "The Gentleman Outlaw and Me" is probably the closest I can come to "Mr. Tucket" but it's a murder mystery versus an adventure. "Little House on the Prairie" is on frontier life but it has over 300 pages. There are not many books I can round-up in the same vein as this one and I'm glad Gary Paulsen is such a prolific writer. Readers can giddy-up into this terific series.

Reading Level 5.0
Fountas and Pinnell: U

4 Smileys

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