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The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw

by Lois Peterson

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orphans & foster homes, westerns, imagination & play
list price: $7.95
also available: eBook
published: 2010
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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
9 to 12
4 to 7
Reading age:
9 to 12
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Association of Book Publishers of BC
Librarian review

The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw

Peterson has caught perfectly the emotions and struggle of a young boy whose mother has abandoned him. Kevin Mason found a note in his Wagon Train lunch box that read “Please look after my son. I can’t look after him any more.” He is taken into foster care where he finally has structure in his life. It is the family he has craved for so long, although he misses his mother and wants her back in his life. Social Services finds his grandparents, who he only vaguely remembers. Kevin insists that he stay at his apartment so his mother will be able to find him when she comes back. Very understanding grandparents coax him through his anxieties and he goes to live with them. The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw is a song his retired cowboy grandfather has written about Kevin’s alter-ego.

Peterson also wrote the Young Orca Reader, Meeting Miss 405.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2010-2011.

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  • Short-listed, Chocolate Lily nominee
  • Short-listed, Silver Birch Express Award nominee
  • Commended, CCBC Best Books
  • Commended, Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year
  • Commended, OLA Best Bets
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After eight-year-old Kevin Mason's mother abandons him, he takes refuge in his fantasy of becoming Knuckles McGraw, a tough cowboy roaming the plains on his legendary horse, Burlington Northern. But instead of riding the range, Kevin is stuck in a foster home with a pierced and tattooed teenager named Ice and a mute girl named Breezy.
While he waits to be claimed by the father he barely remembers or the mother who left him a good-bye note in his lunchbox, Kevin (aka Knuckles McGraw) tries to communicate with Breezy, learns to get along with his bunkhouse-mate Ice, and discovers that memories can be as deceptive as family secrets.

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If Burlington Northern were tied up outside, Knuckles McGraw could leap through the window right onto his back and gallop away before anyone knew he was gone. But for now he has to creep down the stairs, avoiding the creaky ones, carrying his shoes in one hand and his lunch kit in the other. He shoves his shoes under his arm so he can turn the front-door handle. It opens without making a sound.

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Editorial Reviews

"Readers will certainly be drawn to the plucky, appealing grade-schooler and the terrible plight he so bravely faces."

— Booklist

"A humorous yet sensitive story…[Peterson] fills the story with a host of characters who are unusual yet kind and as we hear their stories we develop empathy for each of them."

— Canadian Children's Book News

"Peterson's fiction is a welcomed addition to an elementary school library…She incorporates interesting characters, well-developed plots, and sensitive handling of realistic issues written at an appropriate age level. I tip my cowboy hat to Peterson and the 'Orca Young Readers' series and hope I will be reading more of her work in the future. Highly Recommended."

— CM Magazine

"The author understands how kids think, a fact that will allow the kids in your library to thoroughly enjoy this book...Recommended."

— Library Media Connection

"Peterson...has written another great story for young readers. While the story is simply crafted, her language is a delight and readers will be kept engaged...The book exceeds tremendously in inspiring hope."

— Resource Links
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About the Author

Lois Peterson

Lois Peterson is the award-winning author of eight books of fiction for children, and numerous short stories, essays and articles for adults. She worked at a public library for more than 35 years and worked as executive director of a homeless shelter. Lois lives in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

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