I was probably in the fifth grade, around ten-years-old, when I first encountered the book Northland Castaways by Burton L. Spiller. The book made such an impact on me that I never forgot the title or the name of the author. Spiller, a novelist and magazine writer of the 1950's, published Northland Castaways in 1957, so it was still relatively new when I came across it on our school's bookmobile.
Years later when my son, Nick, was about ten-years-old himself, he found the a copy of the book in his school's library. I told him how much I had enjoyed it, and Nick read it and came away with the same admiration for the story and the writer. I regretted for years the fact that I did not take that opportunity to reread the book.
Jump forward a couple of decades and I found myself in a funky used bookstore on Ninth Street in Columbia, Missouri, within an easy walk to the University of Missouri. I asked the proprietor about Northland Castaways. He didn't have a copy in stock but took the information and said that he would keep an eye out for one. And he did. A few weeks later I got a call informing me that he had a ragged (hardback) first edition with its original cover.
(The price printed on the inside cover was $3.00 - that was the cost when it was new. As Archie and Edith would say, "Those were the days!")
I bought the book, of course, and still failed to reread it - until this week. I finished it last night and am happy to report that it has held up well. I enjoyed this read almost as much as the first.
Northland Castaways is the fictional story of two teenage boys, cousins, who were flying across northern Quebec to visit one of their fathers, a mining engineer who was stationed in a remote corner of Canada. Engine trouble developed during the flight, and the pilot had to set the small, amphibious plane down on a lake to make repairs. When he finished working on the plane, the pilot decided it would be a good idea to take it up for a spin by himself to check out the repairs before taking the boys aboard - and it was a very good idea because he crashed into the lake and was killed.
The boys, Ronald and Dick, had to use all of their scouting skills and natural wiles to survive. They stayed by the lake for a couple of weeks having adventures in their struggle to build a shelter and secure food. The two times that a search plane came by their signal fire was out. Finally they decided to build a canoe out of birch bark and try to paddle back to civilization, which at its nearest point was a hundred or more miles from the crash site.
During the time that they were lost, Ronald's father was searching for them - so this story is told from his point of view as well.
I love this book and I intend to pass it on to Nick's son when I am back in the Ozarks this summer. Boone is fourteen, but I think that he is still young enough to enjoy Northland Castaways. I know I am!