Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Coyote Winds by Helen Sedwick with Author Guest Post!

Published by: Ten Gallon Press
Release Date: November 8, 2012
Number of Pages: 230
How I Got This Book: from Julia Drake PR for review
My Rating:  4/5

Summary (from Goodreads):

 When thirteen-year old Myles brings home a coyote pup half-blinded by a dust storm, his father warns him a coyote can’t be trusted. His neighbor loads his rifle and takes aim. Yet Myles is determined to tame the pup just as his father is taming the land. The time is 1930. Tractors and fertilizers are transforming the prairie into the world’s breadbasket. The American dream is within every man’s reach. But when drought turns these dreams into paint-stripping, crop-killing dust, Myles wonders if they have made a mistake trying to tame the untamable. Seventy years later, when Andy remembers his Grandpa Myles’s tales about growing up on the prairie, he wonders what stories he will tell when he has grandchildren. Algebra, soccer practice, computer games, the mall? Determined to keep his grandfather’s memories alive and have some adventures of his own, Andy heads out to discover what’s left of the wild prairie. Inspired by her father’s tales of growing up during the Dust Bowl, Sedwick weaves insight, humor, historical details and unforgettable characters into a coming-of-age story that reminds us that chasing a dream, even if it brings heartache, is far better than not dreaming at all.


First, thank you to Julia Drake for sending me this book for review. Not only did she send me a copy for myself, she also sent me a copy for the middle school library where I work! That was really nice! Also, thank you to the author, Helen Sedwick, for writing a guest post for the blog...look for that at the end of the post - it's great information!

I am not a big reader of historical fiction, I admit. But, I was quickly drawn into this story.  I loved how the chapters alternate between 3 different characters - Andy, a modern day boy who is intent on keeping his beloved grandfather's memories alive; Myles, the grandfather (when he was about the same age as Andy), and Ro, Myles' coyote pup. I don't think I've read a book that not only has narrative from humans AND animals, but also takes place in 2 different time periods as well. You might think this would make things confusing, but Sedwick did a wonderful job in making everything flow perfectly.

I loved Andy - I loved that he loved and admired his grandfather so much that he wanted to learn everything he could about how he grew up. He was desperate not to forget all the stories that his grandfather told him. He even takes a very risky journey to the place where Myles grew up, hundreds of miles away. I loved learning about the Dust Bowl through the eyes of Myles. Living in Oklahoma, I have heard a lot about this scary time, but Myles' story made me understand more about emotional or human side. Ro's perspectives were also a lot of fun to read. You think of coyotes as wild animals that are dangerous to humans, but Ro makes it clear that this isn't always the case. He was a loyal protector to Myles and his family.

This book is directed to a middle grade audience, but I recommend this heartwarming book to anyone!

Why Should Young Readers Try Historical Fiction
Guest Blog by Helen Sedwick for Once and Future Librarian

I have loved historical fiction ever since I read SNOW TREASURE by Marie McSwigan in second grade. Based on a true story, SNOW TREASURE tells of Norwegian children sneaking nine million dollars of gold past the noses of Nazi soldiers by strapping the heavy bars onto their snow sleds. That slim novel taught more me about war, courage, and country than I had learned in the classroom. 

That’s one of the many powers of historical fiction. 

Historical fiction puts a living face on history. Good historical novels focus on characters, not events. Readers are pulled into the past by identifying with characters. They feel what it was like to mush through the Arctic, to starve in an orphanage, to hunt with a spear, or to outwit a father intent on selling his daughters. The characters become real and memorable. Who can forget Brat of The Midwife’s Apprentice sleeping in a dung pile to stay warm, or Kit of The Witch of Blackbird Pond diving into the icy waters off Connecticut expecting them to be as tepid as the Caribbean Sea?
When readers identify with characters, they appreciate the impact of historical events on individual lives. They learn history without realizing it.

Historical fiction opens our eyes to the present. By pulling the reader into the mind of someone living long ago, historical fiction explores the attitudes and assumptions that may be so integrated into a character’s life, he or she is unaware of them. Slaves assume they will never learn to read. The aristocracy assume they deserve their privileges. Orphans assume no one will ever love them. Typically, those assumptions are challenged in the book, even tossed aside. At its best, historical fiction may make us conscious of our own assumptions about life, family and society and how they affect our attitudes and actions.
For instance, in my novel, COYOTE WINDS, Myles brings home a coyote pup who’s been injured in a dust storm. His neighbor Herbert Moser wants to kill the pup and put his pelt on the fence post to warn other coyotes away. He tells Myles “the land is worthless unless we graze it, the rain is wasted unless we catch it, and mountains are in the way unless we blow them to bits for iron and gold.” A century ago this was a common view; nature was there to be exploited. I hope readers will learn something by contrasting their view of nature with Herbert’s.

Historical fiction demonstrates cause and effect. Most historical novels try to explain historical events from the ground up. What were individual people thinking and how were they affected by historical events? How did their attitudes and reactions bring about other events.
In COYOTE WINDS, Myles’s father Lionel has a healthy dose of the American can-do spirit that helped settle the West. He believes that hard work and technology paved a sure path to success.
During the 1920s, Lionel and thousands like him plowed up millions of acres of raw grasslands on the dry, southern prairie. They wanted to build a future for their families and help feed the world. But instead, they brought about the Dust Bowl, one of the worst man-made ecological disasters in history. 
The attitudes and errors of individuals affect history more than we realize. Perhaps that is why so many people say to ignore history is to repeat it.

Historical fiction strengthens our sense of community. Recently, The New York Times ran a fascinating article, THE STORIES THAT BIND US, about the power of a strong family narrative to help children cope with stresses of life.  Researchers discovered that “the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families function.” Knowing that you are not alone, but instead have a role in a community that expands over both distance and time, is reassuring and gives meaning to such words as family, history, and future.
What is true of family is true of community as well. History binds us together and strengthens us. It explains the present and helps us plan for the future. After all, down the road, writers will be creating historical novels about our lifetimes. Let’s give them some good things to say about us.

Historical fiction is just plain fun. Put aside those lasers, robots and high-tech contraptions of future, dystopian worlds. In historical novels, we can survive shipwrecks, tame horses, snare rattlesnakes, hop trains, chase spies, dance at balls, and swim with dolphins. We can understand our own world better as we exercise our imaginations. We can have fun.

Helen Sedwick
My website:          
I also welcome emails at 

Helen Sedwick is the author of COYOTE WINDS. A finalist in the 2011 Mainstream Fiction Writer’s Digest Competition and the Lorian Hemmingway Short Story Contest, Helen Sedwick recently won second place in the Redwood Writers Flash Fiction Contest for a piece adapted from COYOTE WINDS. She is a lawyer and lives in the Sonoma wine country with Howard Klepper, a builder of handcrafted guitars, and an exuberant hound dog named Farlow. For more info,


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