The Wild Adventures of Eli Johnson and Curly Bill
Reading Level: Middle Grades (boys)
Publisher: CreateSpace, October 30, 2010
Source: A copy of the book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review
In the mid 1800 s many American s headed West in search of gold and adventure. These folks traveled on horses and buggies down perilous trails filled with bandits, wild animals, and hostile Indians in an effort to strike it rich. Our story follows a young man from Virginia, Eli Johnson, who shares the same dream of discovering gold. His plans are derailed as a card game goes bad in a small hotel/saloon in the mountains of Colorado, and is forced to live a life on the run with his comrade Curly Bill. Along the way, the men encounter a host of interesting characters, battle dangerous animals, and try to stay one step ahead of a group of bandits looking for revenge. The men learn valuable lessons about friendship, survival, and a love of the great outdoors.
I am always looking for books that will appeal to my 8 year old son (and my male students). It seems like there is an abundance of "girly" books, but a very limited selection for boys. I'm not in the market to give my kids (or the ones I teach) books that are overly gory and full of suggestive content. They get more than enough of that from public television and video games. When I received the request to read and review The Wild Adventures of Eli Johnson and Curly Bill by Dan Wright, I was elated to have the opportunity.
Originally, I handed the book to my son and asked him if he wanted to read it first, but he freaked out when he saw how many chapters were in the book (50). Now, mind you, the chapters are 1-2 pages long! But I guess that equates to Moby Dick length in the eyes of a lazy 8 year old. I decided it would be best if I read it aloud to him before bed time each night. That way I could read it for the review, and I could get his opinion on the book since he is the target audience.
He loved this book! From the first confrontation in the saloon, he was engrossed in the plot. I would only read a few chapters a night (I had my own reading to do), which often left him begging for me to read a few more pages. He was predicting and anticipating what would happen-- there were great cliffhangers at the end of most of the chapters. We even found ourselves laughing hysterically at Sal the donkey and Miner Mike. A donkey that chews tobacco and sits at a table is hysterical, I don't care who you are! There were also lessons about ecological preservation and our responsibility to nature. Pretty hard stuff for a book intended for 8-11 year olds.
If you're expecting an epic novel full of deep characterization, you're not going to get it with this book and that is okay. Curly Bill is a nice balance to Eli and he does manage to teach us a few things-- preserving nature, PETA friendly relationships with wild animals, etc. There were certainly lessons you could discuss based on the characters' actions. The humor was one of my favorite aspects of this book. Just when things would seem to get a little heavy, Miner Mike would enter and offer up the perfect comic relief. And I can't forget about Sal... hysterical.
There were also some pretty diabolical villains in the story. Three in fact: One Arm Jack, Rattlesnake, and Horseshoe. They were cut throat. There is also a one-eyed grizzly bear after Eli. The book read like an elaborate version of a bedtime story, which I really liked. It would be too long to read in one sitting for a younger child, but it was perfect for nightly readings.
I loved the fact that my son begged me to keep reading each night! That in itself gives this book 4 stars in my eyes. Anything that makes a young child--boy or girl-- want to read should win an award. With so many distractions thrown at our kids, it's nice to have a wholesome book to offer our younger readers. There was plenty of adventure and six shooter action to make this book seem "mature" for their young palates, but it was still appropriate for the intended age group.
Anyone with a son between the ages of 8-13 should get a copy of this book. Your child will love it.