Children’s Fiction of 2007: Bearwalker by Joseph Bruchac

Possible taglines for the movie version:
Class camping trip turns to horror story when the mythical Bearwalker comes to life.
OR A young Mohawk boy faces his fears and becomes an unlikely hero.
OR Bears and humans shouldn’t mix; see what happens when they do.
OR Dances With Wolves meets Friday the Thirteenth. Only this time it’s bears.

OK, so I’m not going to be hired as a movie publicist anytime soon. Bearwalker was actually a great story; it would be especially appealing to guys who like adventure mixed with nature mixed with a little bit of horror and violence. The plot device of “greedy relatives try to buy up the wilderness in order to turn it into a parking lot or a housing development” is a little thin, and naming the villain Jason seems to be a rather-too-obvious nod to Friday the Thriteenth and its sequels. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining story with some lessons on the appreciation of Native American culture embedded not too deeply for junior school readers to pick up and take to heart.

In fact, there’s nothing too deep about this one. It’s straightforward adventure with some Native American traditions and customs and love of nature, especially bears, thrown in for spice. Boy Scouts, campers, bear lovers, and red-blooded boys and girls should love it. The Mohawk Indian mysticism is not carried too far, but it is there if that sort of thing bothers you. Baron, the Mohawk protagonist and hero, is a member of the Bear Clan, and he carries a wooden carved talisman in the shape of a bear with him wherever he goes. This bear charm either inspires him or actually helps him, whichever way you want to read the story, and he also gets help and/or inspiration from the ancient stories and customs of his people, who have respected and even revered the Bear for many centuries.

Like I said, I wouldn’t try to read too much into the Native American philosophy or the back-to-nature message; it’s mostly a horror/adventure story with a happy ending.

More reviews:

BookLoons: “Joseph Bruchac’s Prologue sets the tone of Bearwalker with a Mohawk folktale about an otgont. Half-human and half-animal, it leaves large bear tracks that switch to human tracks en route, and is considered responsible for disappearances of village people. Lore tells that the otgont was once a human who lusted for the power of a bear, and that the transformation requires the sacrifice of a relative’s life.”

Becky’s Book Reviews: “Baron’s heritage of stories with strong and brave heroes and scary monsters may just save the day. If you are in the mood for a thrilling adventure–a wilderness adventure–then this is the book for you.”

I wrote this last year about Mr. Bruchac’s WW II story, Code Talker: Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac. A Navaho boy, Ned Begay, hears about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, disguises his age, and joins the Marines. Because of his ethnic background and fluency in the Navaho language, Ned is given a special assignment that tests his commitment, patriotism, and endurance.

If you read either Code Talker or Bearwalker and like it, Mr. Bruchac is a prolific writer who’s written many books, picture books, fiction, nonfiction and even plays, mostly with a Native American flavor and theme. Here’s a link to his website where you can get more information.

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