Ages 12 and up
Walker Books, 2004, 0-8027-8926-9
Howard Gardener is determined to do something for his family and decides that instead of going home for the winter, he will stay in Birchport and make some extra money by working in an inn. Howard and his brother Jack work on the Erie Canal during the warmer months as hoggees, boys who lead the mules which pull the boats along the canal. In the winter however there is no traffic on the canal and therefore there is very little work in Birchport.
Unfortunately for Howard the job in the inn is taken by someone else. Now Howard faces a very grim few months and he wonders if he is going to be able to survive until spring arrives. Howard has managed to get the caretaker of the mules, old Cyrus, to agree to let him sleep in the barn with the mules so he at least has a roof over his head. Getting enough food to stay alive is another story altogether.
One day Howard meets old Cyrus's granddaughters, Sarah, Laura and Gracie, and he notices that one of them, Sarah, never speaks or responds to anyone. Sarah has terribly sad eyes and Howard wonders what lies behind them. Then Howard gets pneumonia and Cyrus's family take the boy in to care for him. Over the weeks it takes him to recover Howard gets to the know Cyrus and his family. The recuperating boy begins to teach Laura how to read and write and he finds out Sarah's secret; the girl is deaf and dumb, cut off from the world by a wall of silence. Howard becomes more and more determined that he must, somehow, find a way to help Sarah.
Howard's winter experiences shows him that he must get out from under his big brother's shadow; he must find his own way in the world and embrace the things that matter to him. Competing against Jack and being compared to him has been Howard's lot since he was very little. The time has now come for him to show himself, and Jack too, that he, Howard, has his own direction and his own gifts.
This is a very thought provoking and interesting novel. Set against the backdrop of a small village on the Erie Canal, Howard's growing pains and his discoveries are a joy to share. Anna Myers has once again created a piece of historical fiction which both entertains and teaches the reader.
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