Savage Sam



Book: Savage Sam

Author: Fred Gipson

Cover Illustrator: Emanuel Schongut

Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, republished in 1976

ISBN-13: 978-0785746478 (Hardcover)

ISBN-10: 0785746471 (Hardcover)

ISBN-13: 978-0060803773 (Paperback)

ISBN-10: 0060803770 (Paperback)

Related website: (publisher)

Language level: 2

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 9 and up

Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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     Gipson, Fred.  Savage Sam (published in 1962 by Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 10 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY  10022; first Perennial Library edition, republished in 1976).  Not long ago, we watched the 1963 Walt Disney film Savage Sam.  The book Savage Sam is a sequel to Old Yeller, a 1957 Newbery Honor book by which Frederick Benjamin “Fred” Gipson (1908-1973) secured his place as one of the finest novelists in America.  Having  previously read (and watched) Old Yeller, I just had to read Savage Sam too.  It is the early 1870s, and Savage Sam, the son of Old Yeller, lives with the Jim Coates family in the rough Texas hill country.  Travis is fifteen going on sixteen and Little Arliss is six.  While Arliss and Sam are out roaming, neighbor Bud Searcy and his granddaughter Lisbeth ride up to warn the Coates family about an Indian raid nearby.  Not sure that they really believe the story because no one saw any Indians, Travis and Lisbeth head out to round up Arliss and Sam anyway, but all three are captured by the Indians, who knock Sam out cold.

Mr. Coates and a group of neighbors set out to rescue them.  Is Sam dead or alive?  And what will happen to Travis, Lisbeth, and Arliss?  Anyone, young or old, who enjoys a good, rousing, exciting adventure story should like this book.  Aside from a few colloquial euphemisms (dang, gosh, confound it), there is no cursing or profanity, although Travis did note that on one occasion Arliss “cut loose with a stream of words so foul you wouldn’t believe a boy his age could know them,” but no actual “bad words” are found.  A few references to chewing tobacco and smoking cigarettes do occur.  The biggest question that some parents might have is age appropriateness.  Most sources call it a “children’s novel” and give the age level as nine and up.  However, one reader reviewer emphatically stated, “It is NOT a children’s book!”  Children on the lower end of the suggested reading level who are somewhat sensitive or squeamish might not appreciate parts of it.

The scenes where the Indians kill cowboys and soldiers are somewhat graphic, though not gratuitously so, and on one occasion Travis finds himself having to eat raw terrapin meat which was rather rank and tough.  The Disney film pretty much followed the plot, though there were a few major alterations, but it sanitized it quite a bit.  The biggest complaint I saw voiced was the “violence,” but most teenagers should have no problem with it.  The other main complaint I found was “political incorrectness” in not showing enough sympathy for the Native Americans.  However, it is fairly accurate historically and, in fact, is based on a true story that Gipson had heard about.  There is another sequel novella, Little Arliss, published posthumously in 1978, in which Arliss, now twelve years old, determines to prove he is tough and sets out on the trail of a runaway horse.  I will have to say that I really found Savage Sam a fascinating story.

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