Title: Gentle Ben
Author: Walt Morey
Major Themes: Alaska, Bears, Salmon, Friendship
Synopsis: Would loving and caring for a giant bear keep Mark from succumbing to tuberculosis as his older brother had done?
I remember getting Gentle Ben from the library some 30-35 years ago. I don’t remember reading it, although I’m sure I did. This book simply didn’t make any impression on me, except that I wasn’t interested in that author after reading this book. However, 10 or 12 years ago I downloaded a free audiobook of The Year of the Black Pony, also by Walt Morey. This book is excellent! My children listened to it over and over. Then, a friend recommended Gentle Ben, so we decided to try it out. What a story. It is worth reading.
Mark couldn’t wait to leave school each day and run to the shed where Ben was chained. He scratched the massive brown bear under the chin and fed him sandwiches—and then his father found out what he was doing. Mark’s father was terrified that Ben would maul Mark, but his mother stood up for him. Their older son had died of TB, and she was sure that having Ben as a friend would save Mark’s life. However, Ben’s owner was tired of keeping the bear and ready to sell him off for someone to use as target practice. What would Mark’s family do about that?
More adventures followed. Mark spent the salmon season on the boat with his father, earning money to feed the bear. Could he protect him against fearful townspeople, however? When catastrophe struck the family in a couple of different ways, would it be the end of Mark’s journey to good mental and physical health—or would solutions be found?
This is a wonderful story about friendship, and about family. It is also a unique glimpse into life in a salmon-fishing village in Alaska. I was amazed at how the entire economy of the area revolved around the fishing season, making their entire year’s income in a short time in the summer. The dangers of life on the water are not minced, either. This is quite a realistic story.
WARNING: Chapter 1, page 16: Gee. Chapter 2, page 25: Holy mackerel; page 26: Good Lord. Chapter 4, page 44 and 51: holy mackerel. Chapter 5, page 54: for Pete’s sake. Chapter 7, page 87: don’t care a darn. Chapter 9, page 98: good Lord; page 101: man attacks a bear, and vice versa. Chapter 11, page 123: “earliest age of the mammals”. Chapter 15, page 168: “by the gods of war” three times and once on page 171.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15
Links to buy this book:
Amazon: Paperback | Hardcover
AbeBooks: View Choices on AbeBooks.com
Book Depository: Paperback
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