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Danny and Life on Bluff Point: My Horse Sally

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Success Stories

by Mary Ellen Lee


ISBN 059536084X
iUniverse, 2005
196pp, paperback
Retail price £7.74 ($13.95)

Open Book

Review by Nan Seal

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This novel is the fifth in a series that takes place during the late Victorian or early Edwardian period in upstate New York. These stories center on a family living in the Finger Lakes region known for its vineyards, wineries and farms. Indeed the central family, the Lees, live on such a farm. The paperback book is written in first person narrative for pre-teens. I found it a possible source book on how to be a farmer as well. It is detail-oriented and informative. The reader will find it to be a time capsule of the period, unabashedly flaunting family values. Good examples of the accuracy of the period are such phrases as "stuck up" (p 111), not heard by this reviewer in decades, except in a very different context than its original. During the 1890s until the 1920s it primarily meant "conceited" but then slowly gave way to mean "robbed at gun point" and has now died out as a cliché. Later, homage to the period was evident in the parental use of a phrase that has now become obsolete except when illustrative of an example of the speech one might hear from an absolute dictator: "I have spoken."

Because of the current obsession of the target age group with action packed video games, any book is up against tough competition. My own experience as a grandmother and teacher has been that children's books are much too often dependent upon parents and teachers. I would hope that the schools of New York State are attuned to books such as this to be of value in their reading groups. There is no better way to learn a respect for the state's history and commerce or love for the unique natural wonders of the magnificent valleys that house one of our best and most influentially productive universities, Cornell.

There is so much sound advice for youngsters as well as adults in this book. For example on p 32, who among us does not occasionally need to be reminded "I must stop thinking about what might happen and concentrate on what is happening now." Other times the book is so technical (p 91) that it might be used for class exercises to illustrate F=MA. Then on p 60 it slips into history and engineering, which is fascinating to adults or this particular adult. All is about the launching of a steamboat. My grandchildren would also like it because they are science-oriented. To the general student though it would perhaps be appreciated more in a scholastic environment where a qualified person could explain the engineering of then versus now. I've launched boats with my sons so I can appreciate the difference in technical history but it might wash unappreciated over some younger readers.

There was much worthy adventure in this story and I applaud it. There was also much family, belonging, nurturing, community, togetherness, responsibility, work ethic, love and plain old history. Often the history and adventure were intertwined as when the main young character, Danny, falls into an abandoned well of a historical site he has been researching and is saved by an Indian lad. There is severe expression of the role of males and females of that day yet a glimmer of understanding that such is not natural.

All in all, a rich read. Up against tough odds with the rush to video games and dumbing down though.