Children's Literacy Round-Up: April 13
When the Whistle Blows: Fran Cannon Slayton

Alabama Moon: Watt Key

Book: Alabama Moon
Author: Watt Key
Pages: 304
Age Range: 10-14 

Alabama Moon Background: Alabama Moon was published in 2006. I had seen some positive reviews of this book (see links below), and had some interest in it. Then a reader of my blog (Kelly, a teacher librarian) recommended it to me, saying that she thought, based on my reviews, that I would like it. Shortly after that, I was in a bookstore in Lubbock, Texas (business trip), and spotted a copy. I decided to give it a look. And it seems that Kelly is good at reader's advisory. Because I liked Alabama Moon a lot.

Review: Watt Key's Alabama Moon has a compelling premise. For as long as he can remember, 10-year old Moon has lived alone with his father in the forest in the southeastern US, squatting on land owned by a paper company. Moon's father is suspicious of everyone, especially the government, and the two have hardly any contact with the outside world. But all of that changes when Moon's father dies, leaving him alone in the world. The story begins:

"Just before Pap died, he told me that I'd be fine as long as I never depended on anybody by myself. He said I might feel lonely for a while, but that would go away. I was ten years old and he'd taught me everything I needed to know about living in the forest. I could trap my own food and make my own clothes. I could find my way by the stars and make fire in the rain. Pap said he even figured I could whip somebody three times my size. He wasn't worried about me." (Page 1)

Moon's father tells him to set out for Alaska, where he can find other survivalists. But when Moon is discovered, he ends up in the hands of the government. He is chased, locked up, and chased again, fighting against a system that he doesn't understand, to live the life that he's been raised to live. Along the way he meets people who want to hurt him (one toxic sheriff in particular), and people who become his friends. Alabama Moon is a story of survival, but it's also a story about understanding the complex needs of individuals. It's about taking responsibility for yourself, but also about letting other people in.

I think that Alabama Moon is a great title for later elementary school and middle school kids, especially boys. There's quite a bit of action centered around survival (hunting, making fires, finding food, etc.). I'll admit that I personally skimmed over some of this, but I think that 10-year-old boys will be riveted. This content feels completely authentic - you just know that the author has been out there in the woods himself, and isn't writing from pure research. And you get to read about boys living on their own in the woods.

As for me, I found Moon's blunt, back-country voice engaging, and his indomitable spirit irresistible. He's tired and lonely sometimes, yet he never gives up. Here are a couple of examples, to show you Moon's voice:

"I heard the creature scurry off through the leaves. Then I started thinking about the good times I'd had with Pap when we'd swim in the creek and make flutter mills and scratch tic-tac-toe in the dirt. All these memories poured on me like a waterfall until I was shaking and crying. Then I couldn't take it anymore and leaped off the hide pile and ran out into the night." (Page 32)

"Jail was the best place I'd ever been. They had good food and a comfortable bed and a sink with running water and a flush toilet." (Page 49)

"I walked down to the creek with stiff legs and a sore back. I washed the soup can and brought back water for putting out the coals. As the fire hissed and smoked, I sat and listened to the forest and felt proud of all we'd accomplished." (Page 147) 

The end of the book brought tears to my eyes, because I cared so much about Moon. Alabama Moon is a book that will stay with readers for a long time. Highly recommended for middle grade and middle school readers.

Publisher: Square Fish (reprint edition)
Publication Date: September 2008
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Mr. K-C's Blog, Above & Beyond, IMCPL Kids Blog, Great Books for Kids and Teens, Abby (the) Librarian, A Fuse #8 Production. Alabama Moon won the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award for Older Readers.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.