Alida's Song: A Companion to The Cook Camp
by Gary Paulsen. Novel. 88 pages. Grades 5-8.
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You may have met Alida before this brief novel. She's the grandmother in The Cookcamp (Orchard, 1991 ISBN 0531085279). The summer the narrator spent with her in that lumber camp was as necessary for his well-being as it was fun for him, the small child of neglectful and drunken parents.
In Alida's Song, that grandmother rescues him again. She's not working in the cookcamp now but is housekeeper and cook for two bachelor farmers (just like in LakeWoebegone). She writes asking her grandson to join her. He will, she says, be able to help with the farming.
Gunar and Olaf do well by the boy as does his grandmother, of course. It's hard work and they toil from early morning to late evening, pausing only to eat enormous and frequent meals. They do believe in fun, however, and the two men prepare a feast for the boy's grandmother complete with fiddle and spoon music afterward. She teaches the boy to dance, to trust and to love again.
In all, the book is tender and quite wonderful. The knowledge that the work is largely autobiographical lets us feel grateful that the man whose work we so admire today had such nourishment, at least for a summer.
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