The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr

turkey walkThe Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr. Square Fish, 2000 (reprint; original pub. date 1998). 208 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades (ages 10-12)
Maturity Level: 3, 4 (ages 10-12, 12-14)

Fifteen-year-old Simon Green has just finished third grade for the fourth time, and his beloved teacher Miss Rogers has convinced him he needs to “spread his wings” and move on. But move on to what? Simon is a gentle giant of a boy and clearly not one for book learnin’. There’s more to Simon than meets the eye, however, and he puts all his common sense and unerring bird sense to work, hatching a brilliant plan: buy a local man’s flock of turkeys for two bits (~25 cents)/head, march the birds 800 miles to Denver, and sell the birds for a whopping $5/head, netting him a hefty profit. His Missouri neighbors think he’s crazy, but once he puts his mind to something, Simon follows through. Soon, he’s corralled the town drunk, sobered him up, and hired him as the drover (mule driver). He’s bought the turkeys and settled up with his aunt and uncle for some corn and an old wagon. And then Simon Green sets out on foot for Denver with his 1000 turkeys. Along the way, they meet with various adventures: locusts, raging rivers, turkey rustlers (in the form of Simon’s no-account father), Indians, and the U.S. army. The motley crew also picks up a runaway slave and a young girl from a dugout on the prairie who’d recently lost her whole family to the ague.

By the end of the story, when Simon and his team arrive in Denver with nearly all 1000 turkeys, the reader has gotten a full dose of Wild West adventure. Simon Green is certainly more than the village idiot, and each of his teammates proves likewise worthy. Without being preachy, this book shows that each person is unique and can contribute to the team effort, regardless of what his or her individual circumstances may indicate. Simon is gentle and honest with all, be they Indian, former drunk, raving mad woman, circus performer, runaway slave, or just your average Joe. Moments of humor, subtle suspense, and one tall adventure after another keep the reader going until the very end. A satisfying conclusion rounds it off.

This story is full of excellent vocabulary, but it also contains some more colorful language in the spirit of the Old West. The book works well as a read-aloud, but some readers may wish to edit a few phrases out, particularly if there are younger siblings listening in. There really were turkey drives in the 1800s, a little-known piece of American history that adds a fun dimension to the Thanksgiving season.

Cautions: Language (profanity, see third paragraph above)

Overall Value: 3.5 (out of 5)

  • Moral/worldview value: 3.5
  • Artistic value: 3.5

Categories: Entertainment, Middle Grades, Historical Fiction, History, Humor, Character Values

Cover image from Amazon

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Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Northwest.

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