Brief Description: 12 yo boy embarks on a journey to find his kidnapped photographer father
Date Range: 1860
Original Publication: 2021
Suitable for Grades: 5th and up
Target Audience: Middle Grade, Teen
Master storyteller R.J. Palacio does not disappoint in this novel about a boy and a pony. Part mystery and part adventure, twelve-year-old Silas sets off on a pony not his own to find his father, who has been kidnapped by a gang of counterfeiters. The boy’s ability to see and commune with ghosts is both a help and a hindrance in his young life. His best friend Mittenwool is a ghost, and Silas is ostracized by the other (real) children in his fictional Ohio town. His unusual ability allows him to understand things that others don’t. When he sees many ghosts wandering the forest, he knows bad things happened to the indigenous inhabitants there.
The 1860 setting in Ohio swamp country and forest gives historical atmosphere to the novel. Silas’s father is a photographer, which offers the opportunity for the reader to learn a lot about the history of photography. There is little other reference to the issues of the time, including, surprisingly, no mention of slavery. Two of the other characters met while fighting in the Mexican-American War, and I have already mentioned the ill-met fate of the Native Americans. Because the novel does not give much background information for these historical events it rates low on my “historicity” scale, yet it is a great and engrossing novel, sure to find fans among young enthusiasts of historical fiction, westerns, and horse stories.