HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Bears of Blue River
Author: Charles Major
Illustrator: A. B. Frost
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, republished 2009
Related website: http://www.abpub.com (publisher)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 10 – 14 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Major, Charles. The Bears of Blue River (originally published in 1901; republished in 2004 by A. B. Publishing Inc., Ithica, MI 48847). It is the 1820s, and thirteen or fourteen year old Balser Brent Jr., called “Little Balser” to distinguish him from his father, lives with his parents, nine year old younger brother Jim, one year old baby sister, and dogs Tige and Prince, in a cozy cabin of two rooms on the east bank of the Big Blue River a mile or two from the Michigan Road in rural southern Indiana, then a baby state. Their closest neighbors are Mr. and Mrs. Fox, with their son Tom or “Limpy” and daughter Liney, who are Balser’s best friends. Balser is a very brave young man who has many exciting and sometimes frightening encounters with bears and other wildlife and becomes a fearless hunter. How does Balser earn his first gun? What happens when Liney is captured by an Indian? And with all those ferocious bears around, will Balser even survive adolescence?
This book may not be considered politically correct by some, such as gun-hating, PETA-loving animal rights activists, because Little Balser does shoot bears and other animals. However, we must understand that especially in the 1800s killing was a necessary way of life, for food, clothing, shelter, and protection. Balser and his friends did just that. Bears, deer, wolves, fox, and beaver all had their purpose. No part of creatures thus killed was wasted. The meat was eaten, the hides were used for clothes and coverings, and pelts were sold for other necessities that could not be grown or hunted. Basically, the situation was to kill or be killed. At the same time, with one scene where a male wolf, looking after two cubs, is killed, and then the mother is subsequently lured out of the den, and shot, too, another where a fawn is shot in order to lure the mother to its side which is also shot, still another where a fox is trapped, and especially one where a friend of Balser’s is burned alive along with a bear, it is perhaps not a good choice for youngsters who are squeamish or particularly sensitive. Also, there are a few euphemisms (golly, durned) and some colloquial near profanity (Lordy, Lord knows, for the Lord’s sake, etc.)
However, for those readers who are comfortable with the killing and the raw brutality of living in the wilds of a Southern Indiana woods, the book is a fairly accurate, though perhaps somewhat exaggerated, portrayal of pioneer life in the American Midwest. Also, in addition to the wonderful history involved, The Bears of Blue River will keep those who love nature and tales of early settlers on the edge of their seats as they read the exciting experiences of “Little Balser.” Charles Major (1856-1913) was an American lawyer and novelist. In 1898, he published his first and probably his best known novel, When Knighthood Was in Flower, about England during the reign of King Henry VIII. The biggest complaint about the CreateSpace version of The Bears of Blue River currently available is that it is filled with misspellings, improper wording due to Spell Check, paragraph repetition, and other typographical errors. That comports with my experiences, so I avoid CreateSpace books if at all possible. Fortunately, I had a different edition of this one.