Philomel Books, Hardcover, 9780399233838, 48pp.
Publication Date: September 20, 2007
More than a book about an Alaskan boy and his dog, "Swift" is a story of trust and courage, a perfect companion to "Togo" and "Akiak."
Robert J. Blake was born and raised in New Jersey. As a boy he made "tons of drawings" and used up thousands of crayons. He says, "I even did a huge crayon mural on our hallway that was not artistically appreciated by my parents."Sharing one large room with two older brothers was "total chaos," he recalls. "We had lots of animals - dogs, ducks, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, lizards, turtles, snakes, birds, fish, and even two flying squirrels. And, oh yes, a tarantula. I think my parents were afraid to come up to our room."Mr. Blake now resides in New Jersey with his wife and son. He works in his studio, a renovated barn on his property. Mr. Blake says, "I would like to paint in every state in the United States and in every country in the world.""I hope my books lend the reader a feeling, and emotion, a new point of view, a new way to look at something that they might not have experienced otherwise."
Now that he has grown up a bit and passed a gun course, Johnnie can finally join Pa and their dog Swift on when they go hunting for the family's winter's food: bear. After a long trek though the Alaskan wilderness, a grizzly attacks them. Though Pa fires, the bear escapes, but not before breaking Pa's leg. To save his father, Johnnie and Swift set out across the tundra. When they reach Geezer's cabin, they must take his rowboat, cut a channel through the ice to running water, and float down the river to a settlement. Children will relate to Johnnie, who makes mistakes through inexperience and learns from them, but Swift is the title character for good reason. There are few hunting stories on library shelves, but this is a fine one, with a taut text that creates a palpable sense of danger and a series of dramatic double-page illustrations. Painted in oils with a palate knife, the pictures feature heavily layered paints that create dramatic effects, whether showing the golden tones of sunlight penetrating snowy forest, the movements of a bear battling a dog, or the impasto of snow building up on river ice. In the author's note, Blake tells of researching the book while living with homesteaders in Alaska. A riveting adventure story and a fine read-aloud choice, for older children, too. Booklist, starred review