Weasel by Cynthia DeFelice is one of those great books for kids that I read to all five of my children. My ten year old and I just read it this weekend, and he enjoyed it just as much as my oldest kids. Quite frankly, I never get tired of it myself. Over the span of eighteen years of reading the Sequoia award-winning novel to my kids, I’ve found something new in those pages every time myself.
The story is a first-person adventure told through the eyes of eleven-year-old Nathan. At the beginning of the book, someone knocks on the front door of the Fowler house late at night. Nathan and his younger sister Molly know no one should be coming by that late at night, but the knock won’t go away. When they answer the door, an old man who looks as much like a wild animal as he does anything human is standing there and won’t speak. He hands Molly a piece of jewelry that turns out to be their mother’s locket.
In quick order, the reader discovers that Pa Fowler has been missing for a few days now, that Ma Fowler died of sickness, and that Pa wouldn’t have given up that locket for anything. And the adventure begins a smoothly as a log ride at an amusement park, and continues on to the same kind of nerve-shattering crescendo.
I really enjoy reading this book aloud. I love the way I’ve been able to mesmerize my kids with Nathan’s words and all the danger he and Molly face while trying to take care of their wounded father and avoid falling into the hands of the man known as Weasel.
There’s a bit of history included in this book that will probably cause younger readers to ask questions about westward expansion and the treatment of American Indians. DeFelice doesn’t give all the explanations or answers. She just states facts as they were and lets her readers draw their own conclusions about the justness of that expansion.
But there’s no question about Weasel. The old Indian-fighter turned killer is as black-hearted as villains come. He’s also scary, so I wouldn’t recommend this book for kids who might have nightmares, because the events in the book are incredibly real.
DeFelice also develops a lesson in moral obligation that kids might not at first perceive, but adults certainly will. There’s also a lot of insight in dealing with injustices that have been done to you, how you’re supposed to feel, and what you can do about them.
Every time I read this book, I’m amazed at the amount of thought that went into the writing, and the amount of thought that it inspires in the readers. When revenge is all you can think about, when you’re tired of living in fear, what are you supposed to do? DeFelice handles these topics with aplomb, and never breaks stride in her suspenseful tale.
The author works on a small canvas with a small cast of characters, but the story is huge. Only 120 pages long and filled with short paragraphs and a lot of dialogue, struggling readers will find this one easy to devour, and parents that love to read to their kids can read this one in two or three evenings. I highly recommend this book if you haven’t read it.