Tonight we finished a book I had never heard of before: Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner.
The protagonist is Willy, a ten year old boy. I spent the entire book shocked at the maturity, responsibility, resourcefulness, and ingenuity of a ten year old boy. My kids do not walk to the end of our driveway to get the mail by themselves. They have essentially no real "chores," they just do what we tell them. They do not prepare their own bowl of cereal or pour their own glass of juice.
Willy's parents are deceased and he lives with his grandfather on a potato farm. One morning his grandfather doesn't get out of bed and is unable to speak. Willy doesn't know what to do, so he gets the town doctor, who happens to be a woman. She comes over and diagnoses Willy's grandfather with having "lost the will to live."
The doctor suggests that Willy go live in town with someone else and have his grandfather live in the local boarding house, where someone can take care of him. Willy declines her suggestion and chooses to run the farm by himself (I know, he is ten). So, Willy gets up before daybreak every morning and takes care of the farm. He hooks his dog, Searchlight, up to a plow, plants the potatoes. Later, he harvests the potatoes and sells them.
In order to prepare for the winter, Willy (at the age of ten) withdraws money from the bank and goes to the local general store, where he buys all the food & supplies he will need for the winter. He then does all the cooking, cleaning, etc. for himself. He makes oatmeal for his grandfather and spoon feeds it to him every day. He gives his grandfather sponge baths and combs his hair every morning.
Willy rides his sled, pulled by his dog, five miles into town every day during the winter to attend school. My girls thought it was cute that his dog sits outside the school, in the snow, and waits for him all day.
One day the "tax man" arrives at Willy's door. He claims that his grandfather has not paid taxes in ten years and they owe $500. The tax man is threatening foreclosure. Willy (and the doctor) then surmise that this is the reason why his grandfather has "lost the will to live."
Willy decides to enter a dogsled race; the prize money is $500 - exactly what he needs! The entry fee is $50, so Willy goes to the bank, meets with the bank president, and withdraws the money from the bank. My kids think of a bank is "that drive through place where we get lollipops." Of course now if a child walked into the bank by themselves to withdraw money, with no parent present, the police would be called. Of course, no child would be allowed to live by himself on a farm with a bedridden elderly relative.
I won't tell you the ending, because there are some interesting twists. I do recommend this book as a simple read with some action. There are a lot of resources on the Internet to accompany this book. I found lots of project suggestions, worksheets, etc. We did not do any of those. We are so busy with all of the other things we do, that I treat the chapter books we read as just fun, easy time.
The book is set in a simpler time - with no television, computers, phones (the girls asked why Willy had to go into town to get the doctor rather than call 911), etc. Interestingly, like many other books we have read set long ago, the children are considerably more mature and responsible. I wonder if we are devolving as a nation.
I was inspired to teach my children more independence. I am a bit embarrassed, but up until two days ago I still helped my children with their showers/baths. After reading this book, I decided that they can handle this on their own. So, now I am standing next to the shower coaching them (for now). The shampoo/conditioner/body wash usage has skyrocketed. They are not nearly as clean as when I helped them. But, it has only been a few days and know they will improve. It is still play time and they do not focus on "getting the job done" in the shower. Maybe I'll actually assign them chores soon!