One thing I have realized in my two years as a reviewer is how many good books for young people there are, many of which get overlooked. Case in point, Watch for the Raven is a historical adventure for boys published in 2005, not even ten years ago. Author Billie Williams contacted me earlier this spring because she hoped to revive interest in it. I now have the pleasure of introducing you to Watch for the Raven.
What I like best about Watch for the Raven–and this might surprise you given that I labeled it an adventure story–is how well Billie Williams gets the reader into the heads of her likeable characters. Josh might be a boy, but I can relate to how much he grieves over his mom’s death. He might be a teen, but I can also relate to how much he struggles to prove himself as an independent and responsible person. And he might be growing up in the 1860′s, but I can also relate to his terror of being lost and alone in the woods. There are other incidents later in Watch for the Raven in which Williams also does an excellent job helping me understand Josh’s emotions. For example, using snowshoes for the first time proves especially challenging with an injured leg. Williams also helps me empathize with the Indian characters of Eagle Man, Yellow Moon, and Snow and Little Bear. Yellow Moon stayed behind when the tribe went south along the Colorado River for food, because she wouldn’t leave her grandmother alone to die. The rest of the family stayed with her, despite the hardship of surviving the winter without the tribe. I felt their pain over knowing they’ll never hug Dancing Bear again. I also admired how resourceful they were in the face of every danger.
As for the adventure, at times it engages and at times it feels slow. In the first two chapters, Williams allows herself the luxury of stretching out moments and letting us live through them. She spends: a page on Josh’s hunt for acorn nuts for his dad; two pages on Josh’s sighting of a deer and then of an Indian; another two pages on Josh’s flight which lands him on the bottom of a hill with a bruised body, bleeding head, and a broken leg; four pages on his attempts to create a splint; and finally two pages on his fitful night of staying put in the woods until morning. In dedicating this much care to the build-up of the main adventure, Josh’s whole the nightmarish built-up to Josh’s encounter with the Indians feels agonizingly real feels agonizingly real. Starting with chapter three, the rest of Watch for the Raven is about Josh’s encounters with an Indian family. I smiled at the descriptions of how Josh entertained Snow and Little Bear, by showing them string tricks and by telling them Bible stories. My heart raced when an avalanche let loose and when wild animals such as coyote and mountain lion attacked. Yet I also found myself wishing that Williams had provided more details of how Yellow Moon made clothes for Josh or how Eagle Man taught Josh to hunt. Some of her short summaries causes the otherwise fast pace to drag.
Watch for the Raven hails back to days of Big Red by Jack Kjelgaard or My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It’s a good adventure story, albeit a little short at about one-hundred and thirty pages, and so a welcome find.
Although I don’t interview authors of or provide teasers for books which I review as a Quick Take, my recent course on intercultural communication did prompt a couple of questions. I’ve listed them below, along with Billie Williams’ answers.
Allison: How did you decide to include Native American culture?
Billie: Part of including the Native American Culture was the West and the bad “press” given to the Native Americans of old. They were the natives, we were the intruders, but the tales were switched. Showing that they weren’t always the bad guys was important to me.
Allison: What kind of research did you undertake for the depiction of Native Americans?
Billie: I worked for 9 years in the Native American Program (as program assistant) at our local community college. I learned so many things there I can’t even begin to catalog them all. We had students from all over the US–Sioux, Apache, Winnebago, Ojibwa, Menominee, Nez Perce, Brotherton, you name it we had them – we learned a variety of cultures. It was a fantastic experience. I decided to use what I had learned in this story.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate this book?