Old Favorites: Toughboy & Sister

As I was walking my dog over the weekend, shivering in multiple layers of thermal and fleece, I thought back to all those winter survival stories I used to read.  You know, in the warmth of your home, it doesn’t seem so tough. Survival in the worst of conditions is always a great topic to read about. After this winter? Not so much!  Still, I have a great survival story to share.

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Toughboy & Sister, by Kirkpatrick Hill, is the story of two Athabascan Indian children in the Yukon, where it’s far colder than it is in New England. Toughboy and his younger sister, whose name is Sister (really, their names are John and Annie Laurie, but they’re never called that)  have had their whole world crash down around them. Their mother, who had loved them very much, died having a new baby. Their father is so sad and angry that he spends most nights drinking. Toughboy and Sister are left to fend for themselves in their father’s house.

The women of the village though, are upset at their father’s lack of care. For the rest of the winter, the women who were their mother’s friends have watched over them and helped to  care for them.

But their father has grown resentful of the village women meddling in his life, so when an early spring comes, he drags the two kids to their family fishing camp on the Yukon river. At first, it seems like fun, but without Momma, the small family is unprepared. Their father starts drinking heavily again, and one morning, he doesn’t come back to the camp.

With their food running out, can Toughboy and Sister find something to eat? They have a radio, but when they try to contact someone about the bear roaming around their cabin, all they hear is static. No help is coming from that quarter, and the camp has no neighbors for miles.

Can these abandoned siblings survive in the Yukon by themselves? Should they stay put, or should they try to find their way out?  Will anyone even notice if they don’t return home?

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Originally published in 1990, this isn’t as old as most of the books featured here. It was very popular when it first came out, but doesn’t seem to be read as often now.  Toughboy & Sister is a short book  (only 122 pages) and a quick read. The sequel, Winter Camp, is longer and just as interesting–the siblings are (back? still? I can’t tell you without giving away the ending of the first book!) at the camp, with a whole new set of problems.

The author lives in Alaska, and spent much of her early adulthood teaching school in the Alaskan “bush”.  She has a unique perspective on life for children in these small, rural villages.  Both books (along with her other published titles) are very interesting looks at what  life in like for people in some of the very small native villages in Alaska along the Yukon River.

If you like survival stories under harsh circumstances, you’ll enjoy this book. If you’re planning to visit Alaska, you should definitely read this book! Not that you’ll be stuck in the middle of the Yukon, of course, but there are some great descriptions of the land and the creatures there. And some definite tips about survival skills…you know, just in case!


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