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Sample Book Ideas for Literature-Based Reading Enthusiasts

From the 1997 edition of:
The Handbook for the Young Reader's Choice Award
sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Library Association.

for more information contact
Gale Sherman:
Bette Ammon:

More Sample Book Ideas
Lostman's River
by Cynthia DeFelice

A 1997 Young Reader's Choice Award Nominee (Grade 4-8)

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Cloth: LC 93-40857. 160p. 1994 $14.95 (ISBN 0-02-726466). Macmillan. Paper $3.99 (ISBN 0-380-72396-4). Avon.
GENRES: Historical fiction, adventure
THEMES: Swamp life, Everglades, birds, ecosystems, environmental protection, survival, love, scientific knowledge, naturalists, flora, fauna, conduct of life, hunting, feathers, alligators, Seminole Indians, loyalty, honor, trust, value of human life, crime, murder, temper, extinct animals, shame, friendship, drawing, carving, greed, moonshine, , strangers.
READABILITY: Fifth grade
INTEREST LEVEL: Fifth through eighth grade


"The quality of the conflicts in this novel is first-rate--questions of loyalty, honor, trust, value of human life, and environmental concerns focus on the universal struggle between good and evil. What happens to the characters is believable as well as riveting. Once again DeFelice offers an adventure story sure to entertain as well as prod the reader's conscience." Booklist 91(18):1679-80 May 15, 1994. Deborah Abbott.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 47(10):117 June 1994. Roger Sutton. (Advised)

The Horn Book Magazine. 70(5):586 September/October 1994. Elizabeth S. Watson.

"This adventure story has believable characters, a compelling plot, and an ending that will stay with the reader." KLIATT 30(1):6 January 1996. Elaine S. Patterson.

"The dark and forbidding cover will attract even reluctant readers to this story, but the sense of danger is not sustained, for Tyler is never discovered by the killers or ever very far from home. The book will appeal more to 'green kids' than to those looking for adventure. They'll be pulled in not by tension but by the authentic atmosphere, thick with wild creatures and plants, and the desperate cries of hundreds of orphaned baby birds that will ring in their ears as a reminder of what humans are capable of doing in the name of progress." School Library Journal 40(7):102 July 1994. Susan Oliver.

"This well-constructed novel has several elements going for it: an appealing cover; a believable story line; and a likable, gritty protagonist. The author has provided a vivid sense of place, and there is gripping action during the expedition. The environmental issue is integral to the plot, but Tyler's problems and ultimate growth take precedent. Buy this one." Voice of Youth Advocates 17(3):144 August 1994. Joyce Hamilton. (#4-quality, #3-popularity)


Now a professional storyteller (a member of the Wild Washerman team), Cynthia DeFelice previously was a school librarian. She makes appearances at libraries, workshops, festivals, and schools. DeFelice was raised with books; her mother was an English teacher. The books DeFelice liked best were the stories that made her feel as if she "was right in the story, part of what was happening." With her own writing, she attempts to "create an illusion of reality," but she sees her primary task as providing entertainment. "So I want to entertain, I want to keep my readers turning those pages! But I also want to leave them with a memory worth having, with characters they will remember and ideas they will come back to." To research Lostman's River, DeFelice traveled to the Everglades and found herself writing about "twin themes of endangered resources and displaced Native Americans." Living in Geneva, New York, DeFelice and her husband have two children.


Tyler's father brought his family to Lostman's River in the Florida Everglades to escape a possible murder charge. In 1906, thirteen-year-old Tyler is hired by a naturalist to help record and collect indigenous plants and animals. The expedition finds Tyler in a life-and-death situation which forces him to decide about his own values and ultimately gives his father the strength to resolve his own past.


The narration and action make this historical fiction a great adventure and a fine choice for reading aloud. The book consists of seventeen chapters followed by an author's note. To tantalize potential readers, read aloud to the end of Chapter Four.


Mr. Strawbridge, a naturalist, has hired thirteen-year-old Tyler to guide him through the swampy Everglades.
Later, as I lay awake in bed, I thought about going with Mr. Strawbridge in the morning, I still couldn't decide how I felt about it, or about him. I'd felt proud when he praised my drawing, and excited about all the things he could teach me. I liked the way he was always asking questions about things, like how mangroves could drink salt water. It was something I'd never asked myself. I felt good, too, about earning money to buy paints for Carrie and a new dress or a sewing machine for Mama. Maybe Pa would be able to take a break from the drudgery of cutting buttonwood. Why, then, did I feel a strange uneasiness in the pit of my stomach? (page 71, hardback edition)
Tyler's premonition of danger is exactly right. Journey with him on Lostman's River.


Tyler is guiding the naturalist, Mr. Strawbridge, through the Everglades in search of exotic birds and plants. Tyler is always pretty cautious...but not so Mr. Strawbridge.
As I started back to camp with the wood, four canoes appeared around the bend. I looked over at Mr. Strawbridge, hoping to catch his eye and signal him to hush. We didn't know who these men were. They looked to me like plumers, and it was best not to ask for trouble. But Mr. Strawbridge was already waving foolishly, stepping out of the cover of the palms and over to the creek. My heart lurched in my chest as I saw one of the men in the lead canoe draw his rifle and point it at Mr. Strawbridge. (page 90, hardback edition)



Mr. Strawbridge talks to Tyler about John James Audubon and his wildlife paintings. Introduce students to the work by this famous naturalist by sharing his prints from his folios, "Birds of America" and "Quadrupeds."

Some artists who draw in a similar style have produced picture books which students can peruse. These include Alan E. Cober's Cober's Choice (E.P. Dutton, 1979), and Bert Kitchen's And So They Build (Candlewick Press, 1993), Somewhere Today (Candlewick Press, 1992), Animal Alphabet (Dial, 1984), Animal Numbers (Dial, 1987), Gorilla/Chinchilla (Dial, 1990), and When Hunger Calls (Candlewick Press, 1994). Compare and contrast the artistic renderings of the same animals by these artists with Audubon.

Discuss the advantages of painting wildlife today versus 150 years ago. Peter and Connie Roop's Capturing Nature: The Writings and Art of John James Audubon (Walker, 1993) and Joseph Kastner's John James Audubon (Abrams, 1992) may be useful for further study. Additional information can be found on an Audubon World Wide Web site at

Science/Animal Extinction/Fashion:

Plumers in the Everglades regularly slaughter birds for their feathers which were sold to hatmakers and other fashion trendsetters during the late nineteenth century. She's Wearing a Dead Bird On Her Head by Kathryn Lasky (Hyperion, 1995) is a wonderful introduction to the early movement for legislation to protect birds.

Still many species are endangered as a result of the demands of fashion, speculative cures, etc. Poachers killing animals for specific body parts or hunting endangered species for sport has become a crisis in many countries. Students can select topics such as the trade in elephant tusks or rhinoceros horns or the hunting of whales. Their research can include the role of the United Nations, trade sanctions, endangered species, etc.

An Internet site for Birds is For the Birds, which lists hearings for endangered species, a birding page, natural history and bird pages, and other bird links. Also see the Endangered Species Home Page from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


The Everglades are a paradise for birds and birdwatching. Tyler loved them and was distraught at the plumers who were slaughtering the birds for their feathers. Provide bird watching opportunities for your students. Invite a local aviculturist to your class to provide information. Plan a field trip to observe and identify various birds. Provide books such as Roger T. Peterson's How to Know the Birds: An Introduction to Bird Recognition (Gramercy, 1986), Backyard Birds of Winter by Carol Lerner (Morrow Junior Books, 1994) or Barbara Bash's Urban Roosts: Where Birds Nest in the City (Sierra Club/Little, 1990), and videos like Birds, Birds, Birds: Why Birdwatchers Watch (Maslowski Wildlife Productions, 1994). Contact the National Audubon Society or your state or regional chapter. National Audubon Society, 950 Third Avenue, New York NY 10022, (212) 832-3200.

Cassettes such as Know Your Bird Sounds (from Nature Sound Studio, Chelsea Green Publishing, Rt. 113, Box 130, Post Mills, VT 05058) will be of interest to students wanting to learn about bird calls. Invite a guest who can demonstrate.



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