Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book Review #47: HIGH AS A HAWK by T.A. Barron; illustrated by Ted Lewin

"Of the two hundred and fifty-odd trips
which I made as a guide to the summit
of this great old peak, the trip with Harriet
is the one I like best to recall."
Enos Mills (from the Author's Note at the back of HIGH AS A HAWK.)

illustrated by Ted Lewin

Pub. Date: May 2004
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Format: Hardcover, 32pp
Age Range: 4 to 8
ISBN-13: 9780399237041
ISBN: 0399237046

Description (from the publisher):
Eight-year-old Harriet is determined to climb to the top of Longs Peak in Colorado. To get there, she'll have to overcome steep slopes, a freezing blizzard, and what her wise trail guide calls "surprises." But she simply must try both for herself and for the mother she has lost. If she succeeds, she will spread her wings and fly . . . high as a hawk.

Based on the historic 1905 ascent by the youngest person ever to climb Longs Peak, the highest mountain in Colorado, this book combines T. A. Barron's powerful, poetic writing with Ted Lewin's magnificent, evocative paintings. Together, they make a truly inspiring journey.

An author's note describes how the ascent encouraged guide Enos Mills to pursue his dream of creating the Rocky Mountain National Park.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars - Wonderful story - Beautifully illustrated - Enthusiastically recommended.

My Thoughts:
Never underestimate the power of a good book. A few weeks ago, I was alone in the house with E-6 (my 6 y.o. niece) and she was pitching a major fit. She just wanted her parents (who were both at work) and nothing less would appease her. Fortunately, I had recently been to the library and had a few "new" books. I picked up HIGH AS A HAWK and declared "I'm just going to sit here and read this book. You can listen if you want to, but you don't have to." Then I started to read aloud. Within just a few sentences, the crying had stopped and E-6 was at my elbow. I pretended not to notice and kept on reading. Soon, she climbed onto the arm of the chair and then into my lap and, together, we kept reading.

HIGH AS HAWK is based on the true story of Harriet Peters who, in 1905 at the age of 8, became the youngest person ever to have climbed to the 14,255-foot-high summit of Longs Peak in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. She did it in fulfillment of her mother's dream to make the climb with Enos Mills, a mountain guide whose love of the area inspired his campaign to have it declared a national park. Unfortunately, Harriet's mother passed away just a short time before she was to make her dream come true.

When author T.A. Baron was researching the life of Enos Mills, he found an old letter from Harriet mixed in with those from some of America's most famous historical figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and even Helen Keller. Mr. Baron dug deeper to discover just why Enos Mills would have preserved a letter from a little girl. The result is this fictionalized account of the historic event.

Telling the story from Harriet's point of view, Mr. Baron's prose is economic and eloquent at the same time. The little expedition consisting of Harriet, her "pa," and Mr. Mills, sets out before dawn. As the sun rises and the light changes, Baron uses beautifully descriptive phrases that sound realistic coming from the mouth of an 8 year old in 1905. The mountain "looked pinker than a ripened peach. And big, too." The peak "glowed bright, with golden light dripping down its sides like honey." The beauty of her surroundings and her commitment to fulfilling her mother's dream give Harriet the strength to make the long and difficult climb.  And it is arduous. Her father has to drop out because of a persistent cough long before Harriet and Mr. Mills traverse steep woods, open meadows, fields of boulders, and sit out a mountain snowstorm. Little Harriet pushes on despite her throbbing knees and badly blistered foot. Her tenacity so inspires Mr. Mills that when she is about to give up, he tricks her into climbing just a few more yards to the summit, where finally, she spreads her arms wide and glories in being high as a hawk.

Everything about this book is perfect. The heroine is admirable and inspiring; I'm in awe of T.A. Barron's writing, which is spare (for this is a children's picture book) yet so evocative I don't believe illustrations are even necessary. And yet, we are treated to the most gorgeous, color-saturated illustrations of Ted Lewin. It is amazing to me how realistic and detailed watercolor can be in the hands of a true artist. If it's not clear enough how much I love this book, let me point out that my review copy came from the library, but I'll be purchasing one of my own to add to my Keeper Shelf. Find a copy of HIGH AS A HAWK -- and don't wait until you have a crying six-year-old on your hands. Although . . . if you want to test the book's power . . . ;)

About the author (from the publisher):
T.A. Barron is the award-winning author of fantasy novels such as The Lost Years of Merlin epic—soon to be a major motion picture. He serves on a variety of environmental and educational boards including The Nature Conservancy and The Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, and is the founder of a national award for heroic children. Following a life-changing decision to leave a successful business career to write full-time in 1990, Barron has written seventeen books, but is happiest when on the mountain trails with his wife, Currie, and their five children.

About the illustrator (from the publisher):
Ted Lewin grew up in an old frame house in Buffalo, New York, with two brothers, one sister, two parents, a lion, an iguana, a chimpanzee, and an assortment of more conventional pets. The lion was given to his older brother, Don, while he was traveling as a professional wrestler, and he shipped it home. The family kept Sheba in the basement fruit cellar until Don returned and their mother convinced him to give it to the Buffalo zoo.

Ted always knew he wanted to be an illustrator. As a child he copied the work of illustrators and painters he admired, including N.C. Wyeth, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Velázquez, and Goya. When it came time to go to art school (Pratt), he needed to earn money to finance his education. So, following in his brother’s footsteps, he took a summer job as a wrestler—the beginning of a 15-year part-time career that eventually inspired his autobiographical book I Was a Teenage Professional Wrestler.

Ted’s career as an artist began with illustrations for adventure magazines, and it’s only over the last several years that he has devoted his time to writing and illustrating children’s books. “I’m having more fun doing this than anything I’ve ever done before,” he says. He is an avid traveler, and many of his books are inspired by trips to such places as the Amazon River, the Sahara Desert, Botswana, Egypt, Lapland, and India.

Ted and his wife Betsy live in Brooklyn, New York, where they share their home with two cats, Slick and Chopper. Click here to visit his website.

My review copy came from the Portsmouth Free Public Library, and I read this as part of the 2010 Support Your Local Library Challenge hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog.


bermudaonion said...

That sounds like an amazing book!

Zibilee said...

This book sounds wonderfully inspirational and I'm glad it was just the ticket for your fussy niece! I loved this review and will have to mention this book to a friend who has a couple of young boys. Great review!!

Allison said...

Great review! This definitly will be added to my TBR list!!
I really like you blog too!!

librarypat said...

I have already been to Amazon and will be ordering this one with my next order. This book includes so many of my favorite topics. Like the illustration style.