3 out of 4 stars
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The Light in the Woods by Cherie Miller is a pre-teen chapter book full of fantasy and adventure. The main character, Jackson, is a thirteen-year-old boy who lives in the country with his parents and grandfather. The extended family is tight-knit, and Jackson's house is often full of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Much to his dismay, however, all of his cousins are girls. In his attempts to get away from what he considers silly girl stuff, Jackson often escapes to the solace of a huge sugar maple climbing tree in the backyard and even to the forest behind the house.
One day while he is exploring much farther into the woods than he has ever been, Jackson finds an old tree that he has not seen before. It is a massive dead oak with an ominous sign on it: "Danger! Keep Out!" Not long after that, Jackson hears some odd popping sounds and feels like someone is watching him, so he heads back home. Talking to Gramps about the eerie experience, he finds out that he's not the first of his family to find the old tree. One of his ancestors actually put the warning sign up many years earlier. Gramps advises Jackson to stay away from the tree, and Jackson promises -- with crossed fingers. When Gramps goes to visit his sister, Jackson packs a backpack with necessities, determined to find out the secrets of the lights in the woods.
The book is well written and easy to read. The story flows well, and the plot kept me turning pages late into the night. The dialogue is natural, which is especially important in books for children who are learning to read and write dialogue. Further, the descriptions of the characters and setting are quite detailed and vivid, and they evoked clear pictures in my mind. That's also great for chapter books.
I love the fact that even though this book's primary audience is pre-teens, the author doesn't focus strictly on Jackson or just on the cousins. Jackson's parents are secondary characters, much like they often are in young adult fiction. However, Gramps is an integral part of the plot, and Jackson loves and respects him. I think the many children who grow up with grandparents or other extended family members as primary caregivers would enjoy reading about Jackson's connection with Gramps. Jackson and Jessie, one of his girlie cousins, both grow during the story, recognizing that people are more than what they show on the outside. Miller also includes age-appropriate line-drawn illustrations. Unlike the colorful, thickly outlined pictures found in children's books, these illustrations look like pen and ink drawings, reminding me of those that could have been devotedly drawn by a student in a composition book. I found them very fitting, and I think students will appreciate them.
Unfortunately, there are several comma errors and missing words. I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars, taking one star for the editing issues. I recommend this book to children in grades three and higher. The chapters are short, and the book itself is not much more than 100 pages. There is no violence, and the theme of the importance of close family and friends runs throughout. Teachers and parents would enjoy this book, too, and I can see it (after editing) being used as a fun whole-class book study.
The Light In The Woods
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