Danny and Life on Bluff Point
Mary Ellen Lee
Four Seasons Publishers
Compelling Read ... Highly Recommended ... 4.5 stars
The recital opens with Ma admonishing Danny to eat his breakfast. Small for his age, Danny is the brunt of his sisters’ teasing. It is December in the 1890s New York State, and Danny and his father are preparing to go to the woodlot to get a load of logs to take to the family mill. The woodlot with stacks of seasoned logs ready for cutting into stove lengths, a cougar in a tree, working at the mill, using the windmill to run the buzz saw, splitting wood into kindling with a hatchet and stacking wood for use during the winter, are all part of a day’s work. Berkshire pigs, listening to Pa read aloud in the evening, chores to do even on Sunday, one full bath a week, church service at the school house, and visiting with family after service, are enjoyed by the family. A red fox with snow on the ground, and a spirited team hitched to the cutter, can spell disaster if the horses ‘spook.’ Trudging the ‘long way’ in the snow, Ruthie, Mary and Danny go to school where Billy Marshall seethes with anger that Danny gets to attend school every day while Billy must work on his family’s farm and can attend only sporadically. Great Uncle Jerome and his tales of the ‘war of the rebellion,’ horse care lessons, skating on the frozen pond, Buster attacked by the cougar, and a scream from a panic stricken horse are all part of this spell binding account. ‘Danny and Life on Bluff Point’ is a compelling read rooted in the author’s Grandfather’s journal musings. Author Lee relates that the family persons alluded to in the story are real. Danny is based on the author’s father. The locations noted are factual, and many of the houses mentioned continue to be used today. Farm life in New York state during the 1890s was filled with hard work, few conveniences in the sense we know today, familial trust and belonging, and joyous times. The spirit of the era, the warmth of family life and values of the characters portrayed are all brought to life under the skilled pen of writer Lee.
Readers will enjoy meeting Clara the cat, Buster the collie, sisters Ruthie, Mary and Carolyn, Ma and Pa, Uncle Jerome and Aunt Liz, Uncle Henry and Aunt Mertie, and Cousin Jay. Readers will come to know something of Cousin William Fenner, bully Billy Marshall, Doc and Uncle Ed, and Belgians Kit and Bess, or Jim and Dan draft horses hitched to wagons or bobsleds. Cooking and heating the house with wood is not often found in homes today. Stoves downstairs, stove pipes and register carry heat to the rooms upstairs. Eggs and butter to sell, machine threshed beans sold by the bushel, cows getting loose, Christmas shopping and the whole community meeting at the school for a community Christmas social will enthrall middle grade readers.
No TV, no video games, and few ‘store bought’ goods all speak of a time and place now all but forgotten. That these anecdotes are based upon true events and real people are a delight for teachers as they endeavor to bring ‘social studies’ alive in the classroom. Some situations offered in the story; solving conflicts, dealing with bullies in a positive way, overcoming challenges, cooperation within family and community, old time family fun and caring are values valued then and valued today. This is a book I will use in my classroom. I know the children will enjoy hearing it read aloud and will want to read it again for themselves. Pencil drawings sprinkled throughout the work add to reader understanding and enjoyment. Excellent addition to the personal reading list for the 8 to 13 set, school library, home reading shelf and classroom library. ‘Danny and Life on Bluff Point’ will provide a focus for discussion groups regarding life in the United States a century ago. Enjoyed the read, and am happy to recommend for the middle grade reader and adults who enjoy historical tales.