The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw by Lois Peterson

Ballad of Knuckles McGraw coverKevin Mason is on his way to stay with people he’s never met, a note from his mother tucked safely in his Wagon Train lunchbox: “Please look after my son. I can’t take care of him anymore.” As he and his social worker sit in the car, waiting for a train to pass, Kevin notices the name “Knuckles McGraw” scrawled across one of the boxcars, all of which are marked officially with “Burlington Northern.” A new identity as a lonesome cowboy — complete with faithful horse, called Burlington for short — is born. Kevin, now Knuckles McGraw, finds a comforting stability with Joe and Liddy’s likeable patchwork family, but as he struggles with conflicting loyalties and confused memories from his past, this cowboy fantasy offers a safe place of escape. Peterson successfully ties Kevin’s past, future, and interest in cowboys together, making the ending very satisfying without wrapping things up too neatly.

Knuckles McGraw is written simply enough for readers just gaining confidence with chapter books, but includes enough substance to give more advanced readers something to think about, too — a great choice for a family to read together. The third person present tense narration felt a bit strange at first, but began to seem more natural as Kevin’s desire to create protective space between his current and his earlier life became clear. All told, a surprisingly thoughtful read.

Read reviews from CM Magazine, or one from FernFolio.

Check out a teacher’s guide full of discussion and activity ideas, and a great note from the author!

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