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Children's Literature Reviews
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The Big Wander
Will Hobbs.
New York : Atheneum ; Toronto : Maxwell Macmillan Canada ; New York : Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992.
181 p. : map ; 21 cm.


As he searches for his uncle through the rugged Southwest canyon country, fourteen-year-old Clay becomes involved with a group of Navajo Indians who are trying to save some of the last wild mustangs.

Best Books:

Booklist Book Review Stars, Oct. 15, 1992 ; American Library Association; United States
Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High, Twelfth Edition, 1995 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Eighth Edition, 2000 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 1993 ; American Library Association; United States

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Utah Children's Book Awards, 1996 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Utah
Virginia State Young Readers' Award, 1995 ; Nominee; Middle School Level, Grades 6-9; Virginia

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader" "
Interest Level Middle Grade" "
Book Level 5.1" "
Accelerated Reader Points 8" "
Accelerated Vocabulary" "

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 6-8
Reading Level 6
Title Point Value 13
Lexile Measure 800


Chris Sherman (Booklist, Oct. 15, 1992 (Vol. 89, No. 4))
It's 1962, Gene Pitney's "Only Love Can Break a Heart" is playing on the radio, and 14-year-old Clay Lancaster and his brother, Mike, are on a "Big Wander," their last trip together before Mike goes away to college. Clay is delighted to be on the road, exploring the Southwest, but Mike is pining for his girlfriend in Seattle. When an old prospector steals their truck, Mike decides to go home, but Clay stays in Arizona, working at a trading post and continuing to search for their uncle, who is on his own "wander." Hobbs has created an adventure that most teens would love to experience themselves. He also provides a hero who is capable in the wilds as well as believably naive and inept with girls, a Monument Valley setting that Hobbs himself obviously loves, and enough action and humor to satisfy even the most reluctant reader. It's a natural for a booktalk and will practically sell itself. Category: Older Readers. 1992, Atheneum, $13.95. Gr. 7-10. Starred Review.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1992)
Spurred on by the legendary status of his cowboy/prospector uncle Clay, and further inspired by James Stewart/John Wayne westerns, Clay Lancaster sets out to explore the Southwest's canyon country. Traveling at first in a rusty $100 pickup with his older brother Mike, then journeying solo with Pal, a burro, Clay searches for his uncle in the canyons of Arizona and Utah. Along the way, Pal gives birth, while Clay finds a stray dog, is given a pony by the Navajo, suffers an infatuation, and finds true love. Ultimately, he "springs" his uncle from the jail, where he's being held for rustling wild ponies from their fate at the meat-processing plant so that they won't become extinct. This oddball fantasy, set in 1962, has a winning hero but an idealized view of the Southwest of 30 years ago that may strike some as narrow. The ease and alacrity with which Clay finds jobs, friends, clues, transportation, pets, his uncle, and a girlfriend pass belief, and the burro's overlooked pregnancy is a reed-thin stretch. Still, there are real-life garnishes of the period (bomb shelters; teenagers reading Profiles in Courage); readers who loved Brighty of the Grand Canyon may grow up to appreciate this regional homage as well. 1992, Atheneum, $13.95. © 1992 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Set in 1962, this good-natured chronicle of a boy's summer-long search for his uncle is jam-packed with action and a heap of fortunate coincidences. After driving around the Southwest with his older brother Mike, Clay, 14, finds himself a job at a Monument Valley trading post. When a colorful prospector makes off with Mike's truck, leaving in exchange his trusty burro, Pal, Mike hightails it home. Clay, however, remains, and is duly rewarded with a snippet of news about his uncle. Encouraged, Clay packs up Pal and heads out; he happens upon the very family of Navajos that had befriended his uncle. The next stop is Utah, where Clay plunges headlong into his first romance, a jailbreak,stet comma and a noble scheme to liberate a herd of mustangs destined for the slaughterhouse. Hobbs's evident desire to educate his readers often leads to didactic dialogue: ``You know, there's only about twenty thousand mustangs left in the whole country. The lead mare's drinking now, then the next in rank and so on. If the stallion tries to drink before all the rest are finished, the mares will run him off.'' Despite a few ungainly moments, this novel has the kind of charm that just seems to come naturally when a likable kid is put into some gorgeous countryside with a bunch of wild horses. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)

Mary Lou Burket (The Five Owls, January/February 1993 (Vol. 7, No. 3))
At first this seems to be a book about two brothers on a road trip into Utah, searching for the uncle someone describes as "One of the Men Who Don't Fit In." But after awhile the older brother, whose heart was never in the project to begin with, calls it quits, while the younger brother leaves the "road" entirely for the pack trails and isolated canyons. He is fourteen-year-old Clay, and the story is his. Clay is a city kid from Seattle, fond of westerns and shy with girls. Although he's looked forward to spending the summer with his brother, he really grows when they're apart. The year is 1962, and there are still wild mustangs in the canyons. Popular tunes like "Only Love Can Break a Heart" play on the air. As Clay sets out, he makes the most of every adventure. Despite his awareness of the threat of a nuclear war, he's taking big, hopeful leaps with his life--learning to ride through rugged country by himself, to dance the slow dance, and to kiss his first kiss. Author Will Hobbs lives in Durango, Colorado, and he warms his story of Clay's trip with his love for this beautiful region and its people. The strongest chapters are about the time Clay spends with a Navajo family, who summer in one of the canyons and befriend him, giving him precious information about his uncle. When he sees what the woman is weaving on a loom, Clay reflects: "How could she make that design, and make it right out of her head?" Compared to her, "What had he ever done?" Hobbs has an easy sense of humor, which is useful for revealing Clay's feelings. The character of Sarah, an accomplished rider Clay's age whose competence and daring are appealing, is another big plus. It's unfortunate that none of these pleasing elements are suggested by the jacket, which shows the handsome Clay with his able burro Pal and dog Curly. (I liked them, too.) To be fair, there's such a lot going on in this book that it would be hard to imagine a single defining image. Although I might have preferred a more direct beginning and a tighter focus throughout The Big Wander, it grew on me and I enjoyed its positive spirit. Readers who love a happy ending and stay the trail will be glad they did. 1992, Atheneum, $14.95. Ages 10 to 14.


Navajo Indians--Fiction.
Indians of North America--Southwest, New--Fiction.
Southwest, New--Fiction.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.H6524 Bi 1992
92000825 [Fic]
0689317670 : $14.95 ($19.50 Can.)
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