Cover image for The barn burner
The barn burner
Willis, Patricia.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Clarion Books, 2000.
Physical Description:
196 pages ; 22 cm
In 1933 while running from a bad situation at home and suspected of having set fire to a barn, fourteen-year-old Ross finds haven with a loving family which helps him make an important decision.
Reading Level:
660 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.9 6.0 42450.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.3 11 Quiz: 22073 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


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After a family disagreement, Ross Cooper leaves home with only a knapsack and the clothes on his back. He hopes to find work, but job prospects in the 1930s are dim, especially for someone as young and inexperienced as Ross. His troubles worsen after he is spotted fleeing a burning barn in a Ohio town where a number of barns have gone up in flames. Though a kind but destitute family takes Ross in, he yearns to hit the road again, especially when another barn is set afire and he falls under suspicion. But stronger than his wish to leave is his hope to discover the true identity of the barn burner and clear his name. This moving and fast-paced story captures the spirit of determination and hope boys like Ross needed to survive during the Great Depression.

Author Notes

Patricia Willis is an author of historical novels for middle-grade readers. She won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for her novel Danger Along the Ohio.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-8. Running away from home after a violent confrontation with his father, 14-year-old Ross seeks refuge for the night in a barn. He awakens the next morning to discover the building is on fire. The boy manages to save the horses trapped there, but he is observed leaving the building and is presumed to be the barn burner. He escapes, but his flight is interrupted when he encounters the Warfield family and stops to help them. The year is 1933, and Mr. Warfield has gone west to find work. The mother, Mary, and her three children are moving into a tumbledown shack. Against his better judgment, Ross is drawn into their lives. Will they become his new family? Will he decide to return home in search of reconciliation? Contrivance and coincidence mar this story about the meaning of family and the emotional impact of economic privation, but Willis has a good feel for the period of the Great Depression, and readers will share her obvious affection for her characters. --Michael Cart

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-9-After an argument with his out-of-work father turns violent, Ross Cooper joins thousands of others on the road in 1933. As the story opens, the 14-year-old wakes up to find that the barn he has spent the night in is in flames. He catches only a glimpse of the man he presumes has set the fire before he rushes outside and almost into the arms of the barn's owner. Ross escapes, but leaves the owner thinking that he set the fire. Thus, Willis's first plot thread is firmly established. The second thread involves Ross helping a woman and her three children settle into a ramshackle house. All he hopes for is a meal or two, but as word spreads about a young arsonist in the area, his stay lengthens. Thus Willis is able to depict the difficulty of daily life in the Depression, as well as the boy's internal conflicts over his feelings about his adopted family and his real family. Add to this his suspicions about various men in the vicinity who might be the culprit, and Willis has enough twists and turns to keep young readers involved. Ross's maturation as he begins to understand the desperation of so many men, including his own father, to provide for their families is deftly handled and believable. The love exhibited in his adopted family counterbalances the hard times. By tying an unsentimental look at the era together with a mystery, the author has created a story that is both appealing and of literary merit.-Coop Renner, Moreno Elementary School, El Paso, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.