There are two groups of readers who should welcome local author Kenneth Budd’s new book, Fall Gently, the latest in The Adventures of Buddy Williams series. The story that the author began in book one, Summerwild, continues.
It’s about 11-year-old Buddy, a prairie boy, and his friends, Mokey, the chubby one with the glasses, and Riel, the Métis tough kid. Today’s 10 and 11 year olds should read Fall Gently for its true-life stories of other guys at another time, during the 1950s, told with an authenticity that a kid can understand.
Grandparents should read it for the nostalgia it evokes for this bygone era. The author’s prose is evocative as the ‘50s come alive. Those were the days when they packed up the summer cottage at the end of the season, piled the kids in the station wagon and bought them new shoes ready for the first day of school. But wait, parents still do that! In this way, the story is timeless.
Buddy confronts universal issues: the teacher from hell that makes Grade 6 miserable, an annoying little sister and a beloved grandfather falling ill. The antics that Buddy and his friends get up to could happen today: raiding the neighbour’s apple trees, camping out by the river, standing up to schoolyard bullies. The stories are not contrived; some problems are resolved, others are not. The snotty teacher doesn’t exactly get her comeuppance — not even when Grandma intervenes with the school principal. Sometimes life’s like that, but Buddy comes to understand that he has adults in his corner who love him.
Do kids these days goof around in nature as much as this trio? The author doesn’t think so.
“In the past parents would say ‘go out and play and don’t come back until dinner,’” Budd says. “Now, they drive their kids to an organized sport or activity.”
Budd, a teacher for 25 years, bemoans the fact that today’s eight to 12 year olds spend eight hours a day in front of a screen. He misses the kids and, still in teaching mode, he has written accompanying study guides for teachers to use in the classroom. Budd may have the opportunity to visit school children again via Skype, when he will be a kind of long distance “teacher in residence” at a Saskatchewan school.
There is another major difference between Buddy’s era and the life of an 11 year old today — and it’s not computers or cell phones. Buddy is given a gun, not just a pellet gun like he had before turning 11, but also a real duck-shooting shotgun. His grandfather, who fought in the war, teaches him how to use the weapon responsibly. They hunt together for the camaraderie as much as the game that they take home to eat. These days, guns and school kids don’t mix. This book is a thought provoking reminder of how important the practice of hunting wild game was to prairie people — and how attitudes have changed.
The author tells how he inherited his grandfather’s gun.
“I used to walk through the streets of Brooks, Alberta, at the age of 16 or 17 with the gun over my arm,” he recalls, “to go pheasant hunting.”
The sight was not unusual. He realizes that today some boys have what he terms a “silly mentality” about guns as toys and he hopes, by describing in the book how carefully he was trained, that they will learn from his example.
Fall Gently is available at some Coast bookstores for $15.95. Books and study guides can be purchased at www.summerwild.ca.