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 is Chair of the Spanish and Classics Department at the University of California, Davis. He has published widely in the field of Hispanic linguistics and is a nationally recognized developer of computer-assisted language-learning software. Currently, he sits on MLA's Advisory Council and is an MLA delegate in pedagogy.
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