This is a surprising, quick read written for children, grades 3-6. I would classify it as a chapter book because it has chapters (ten of them), simple, easy to read language, and an elementary plot that children can follow.
I read Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition because it was selected by the teens in my Teen Reading Club that I lead. In the beginning, I was interested in the book because of its premise. My enjoyment lessened as Grandfather's situation clarified, and Doc Smith was introduced, both characters I found lacking. In fact, the teens voted them as their least favorite characters in the novel. The story picked up when Stone Fox was introduced, a Shoshone Indian who lives on a reservation with another Indian tribe, the Arapaho. Stone Fox was the teens' favorite character, second only to Willy's dog Searchlight. The ending ruined the book for me, and almost everyone agreed minus a few of the guys in the reading club.
Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition is based on a Rocky Mountain legend told to the author, John Reynolds Gardiner, by Bob at Hudson's Cafe in Idaho. The historical roots intrigued me. Unfortunately, everything is fictional minus the dog Searchlight and the ending. This really surprised me since the title of the book comes from Gardiner's fictional character rather than the actual historical legend. In Gardiner's version of the legend, the main action takes place on a potato farm in Wyoming and the nearby small town. The seasons change from potato harvest to winter, all important details for the plot.
The plot is a simple one-- a coming of age story for the protagonist Willy. He's a ten-year-old boy who's given more responsibilities than any boy his age should have. He has to grow up quickly, and it's his determination, strength, resilience, and hope that allows him to save the day-- that and his best friend Searchlight, a female dog. Willy conquers one obstacle after another until a climatic and unforeseeable ending, which is the only part of the story that is based on the actual legend.
I tried researching the legend, but there was very little substance available on the Internet. There could be some information in scholarly databases, or it might be an oral legend, with John Reynolds Gardiner being the first to write it down. I did wonder why he had to "spice" the legend up with all the characters that he created, especially when the title of the book is derived from one of Gardiner's fictional characters. A more apt title should have been "Searchlight" since the book is about Willy's dog.
As I already mentioned, none of the characters are based on the original Rocky Mountain legend. My favorite character was Searchlight, Willy's dog, closely tied with Stone Fox, the Shoshone Indian. The only other admirable character was Willy, but there wasn't enough character development to form an attachment to him. Characters I didn't care for were Doc Smith and Willy's Grandfather, mainly because of their "give in" attitude, which was frustrating to come up against around every turn and hardship. I did appreciate, though, that Gardiner created a woman physician for the book (a good role model for young children). Gardiner never gives a specific time period for his book, but considering it's a legend, you would think it took place around the time that dog races were extremely popular, maybe late-1800's. Some of the lesson plans and study materials for the book indicate this date as well, so it makes it more exciting that Gardiner included a female doctor when it wasn't very common in that time period.
In the end, the character development is rather simple because the book is meant for such a young audience. Likewise, there are no literary elements utilized or complex writing strategies employed because, again, it would take away from the simplicity of the story and the "easy to read" factor that parents and teachers are looking for when they give this book to children.
Despite its simplicity, there are positive and powerful themes and motifs in the story:
There are even more than these, but listing the others would spoil the story for those who have not read Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition.
The author's intent is a bit unclear. All I can fanthom is that he wanted to preserve the oral legend that he had heard. One aspect I would have liked was more research information about the legend, but as I already speculated, perhaps that information does not exist, or at least is not readily accessible for the everyday reader.
One of the best and most powerful aspects of this read are the illustrations, drawn by Marcia Sewall. The illustrations add the perfect amount of visualization for young children transitioning into chapter books, and they are so beautifully sketched that even adults are sure to to find a lot of enjoyment in them. Marcia Sewall uses pencil illustrations, and I'm really glad she did. It fit with the overall time period feel of the piece. Sewall's excellent illustrations is illuminated by the contributions she's made to over 40 different children's books. It's no surprise that this fantastic woman is also a celebrated author. I highly recommend reading Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition just to get an opportunity to see her artwork.
I can't think of other books to compare this one to. It is what I would call a "dog book," so if you like dog heroes, you might enjoy this one. One word of caution, though, for parents with sensitive children, is that the ending is quite a shock...it surprised me and most of the teen readers. I was upset over the ending, as were numerous others, and I have a feeling that some children will not appreciate the abruptness. This book is a fast read, as quick as fifteen minutes, so I highly recommend that parents concerned about their children's emotional state take the time to read this on their own. It never hurts to be cautious, especially if your children are not ready for such a sudden end. Hopefully, my little warning didn't give away too many details about the end of the book.
In the end, I recommend this book for most children, with some minor exceptions. There are also fabulous resources for teachers using this book in their classroom, including the following sites:
There are discussion questions, book recommendations for children who liked this one, and even lesson plans about the state of Wyoming, women doctors, vocabulary, and human relations, to name just a few. I especially liked how the homeschool website included a botany lesson and a potato recipe. It takes reading outside the novel, and makes the story more engaging for nontraditional learners.
Even though this book wasn't one of my favorite reads, mainly because of the lack of character development, no basis to compare this retelling to the original legend, and the distasteful ending, I still recommend it purely because of the teaching experiences instructors and parents can have with it. I'm sure the appropriate age group will enjoy Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition too. After all, I'm not the target audience.
Overall, it was an "ok" story with the soft pencil illustrations stealing the show. The illustrations brought Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition to life.
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