Eleven year old Danny Marsters was planning to have a fun but straightforward summer: pool parties and bike rides with his buddies, the odd game of washer toss with Grampy, and, of course, soccer camp. He didn't count on developers threatening to build condos on the land the whole community had worked so hard to turn into the best soccer field in the county. And he definitely didn't expect to stumble across a dishevelled man living all alone, deep in the woods behind Barnaby's Brook. But Danny's curiosity gets the better of him, and he slowly befriends the hermit. Just when he discovers a hidden connection between himself and the old man, disaster strikes, and more secrets are exposed that just might help Danny save the soccer field once and for all.
Loosely based on the real-life "Hermit of Gully Lake," this story of unexpected friendship and close-knit neighbourhood bonds will appeal to anyone who has had to stand up for the things—and the people—they love. With themes of environmentalism and community activism, The Hermit is a timely novel full of heart.
About the author
Jan L. Coates is the author of numerous books for young readers, including A Hare in the Elephant's Trunk, a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award and the Ann Connor Brimer Award, as well as a USBBY Outstanding International Book. Her middle grade novels have been finalists for the Ann Connor Brimer Award, the Violet Downey Award, and the Hackmatack Children's Choice Award. Sky Pig received the 2017 Lillian Shepherd Award for Illustration and was shortlisted for a Willow Award. She lives, writes, and teaches in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
Excerpt: The Hermit (by (author) Jan Coates)
He groans and takes off his red hat, scratching his summer buzzcut. His hair doesn't look so carroty when it's buzzed. "So, Woods Man Dan, when's this legendary waterfall gonna show up?"
I stand up, stuff my water bottle into my backpack, and start walking. "Patience, Benny boy. Patience. It's only been an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. It'll totally be worth it once we're..."
I freeze as a sharp screeching echoes all around us. "What the...?"
Spewing out the water he's gargling, Ben slams into me, one monster foot mashing onto my sneaker heel. "What is it?" he asks. "Another fascinating pile of blueberry bear scat? Perhaps some fewmets?"
"No—shut up! Didn't you hear that?" I shove him away, then bend down to cram my heel back into my sneaker. "Fewmets?"
"Weird." I stand back up and look at the sky as the noise starts up again. "Where's it coming from? Is that what a screech owl sounds like?"
Ben's looking around now, too. "Try six screech owls, maybe." His eyes jerk up to something behind me, then bug open. "Holy horse apples!"
"What?" I snap my head around, expecting to see nasty owl talons coming at me. Instead, it's a giant spiky tree skeleton hanging with clumps of greenish-grey Old Man's beard moss. I give Ben another shove. "Idiot. And horse apples?"
He smacks me on the back. "Ha ha! Made you look! And it's awesome how many words for feces you can find online. Have I mentioned lately how much I love Google?"
"Keep moving," I say. "You've got some sad habits, and you watch way too many bad movies. But seriously, what's that awful noise, besides you yapping, I mean—a chainsaw?"
Ben shuffles along beside me, cupping both hands around his big ears. "Sounds like a parade."
"A parade in the middle of the woods?" I ask. The sound fades into a low buzzing, like a hive full of bees, then stops.
"I got nothin'," he says, shrugging. "How about an old tomcat howling?Looking for a girlfriend?"
"Yeah, right. A wildcat, maybe."
When the squawking starts up again, we follow it, leaving the trail. We stop at a line of trees along the edge of a gully. The steep banks around the ravine below are crowded with trees, but I find an open space between some bald branches and squint down into the deep gully. There's a small cabin pretty much buried in pine branches, except for two tiny windows and a stone chimney. From up here, it looks more like a brush pile than a building. I drop to my knees when somebody comes around one corner of the cabin, a wrinkly elf guy. He's blowing hard on a set of bagpipes. The sun's beaming right down on him, like a spotlight.
Ben flops down beside me and plugs his ears. "What the... is that a freakin' hobbit, or a wizard?"
The old guy marches around the clearing, lopsided, like one of his legs is shorter than the other. He's got long grey hair, a matching beard, and he's wearing a red plaid shirt, like some lumberjack.
"Whoa!" I grin at Ben. "Is he for real?"
"He must be crazy for real, living out here with the bears," he whispers, doing a fake shiver. "Maybe even escaped killers. It's creepy."
I take off my backpack and my yellow ball hat and stretch out in the dirt and pine needles at the edge of the bank. Through a skinny space in between tree trunks, I can see the elf guy, but he can't see me. Or, at least I hope he can't. "He must be a hermit," I say. "Like in some fairytale. One of his hands looks messed up. Is he missing a finger?"
Ben squirms in beside me.
"Put up your hood to hide your hat and your hair," I say.
He does. "Oh, yeah, the baby finger on his right hand. Probably chopped it off with that axe over there. But aren't hermits only in stories? Wasn't the Grinch supposed to be some kind of hermit?"
I shrug and cover my ears to block out the screeching bagpipes. This guy is for-sure real.
He finally quits blowing, sits down on a bench and leans back against the cabin. After a while, he takes his bagpipes inside, then comes back out whistling, carrying two tin buckets. He hooks them onto either end of a pole, puts it across his shoulders and limps off toward one end of the ravine. We can't see the water, but we can hear it. Probably Barnaby's Brook, which is what Dad said everybody calls this massive forest. The hermit's whistling fades away as he disappears down a hill.
"Amazing Grace," I say, sitting up.
Ben frowns up at me.
"The song he's whistling. I'm a band geek—so what?"
Ben sits up and digs a caramel out of his backpack. He unwraps it noisily, like everything he does. "Sounded like that Danny Boy song your nana always used to sing. The one about the pipes calling." He stuffs the candy into his mouth. Since he sucks at sharing, he doesn't ask if I want one.
"The tunes are kind of the same." I poke him in the gut. "Didn't your mom put you on a sugar-free diet?"
"These are sugar-free. Not as tasty as the real thing, but still good." Ben takes another drink of water. "You have no clue how painful it is being pre-diabetic."
"Lucky for you somebody invented sugar-free candy. And, just because your dad has diabetes, that means you'll get it, too?"
Ben shrugs. "Mom says it runs in families. Kind of like you having your dad's poofy black poodle hair." He sucks back more water, then does some loud gargling.
"Better than your carrot fuzz." I crawl over to a more open spot so I can see better. "Wish I had binoculars."
Two suits of grey long johns, footless onesies like Grampy wears in winter, dangle from a branch above the woodpile, flapping in the breeze. A witches' brew black pot hangs from a pipe over a crackling fire in the stone fire pit.
"What, smoke?" Ben crawls over beside me, sniffing like some hound dog. "Or your butt?"
"No, moron. Stew, rabbit stew I bet. Bunny stew. Yum..."I lick my lips, lean up on one elbow and pat my gut. "Hasenpfeffer, like in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon where the king's cook, what's that guy's name, the one with the big mustache?"
"Yeah, yeah. Looney Tunes are the best. I love that dude—Yosemite Sam. He's always hunting for rabbit stew." Ben stuffs a finger down his throat, like he's about to puke. "Except, rabbits are furry pets, not food. How d'ya think Jessie'd taste in a stew, huh?" He sticks his nose up in the air, putting on his bad French accent. "Monsieur Daniel, could I interest you in some savory puppy ragout with thin slices of beagle ear in a delicate tomato sauce, prepared especially for y..."
I flatten myself to the ground. "Shut up! He's back."
The hermit lowers the buckets to the ground, then pours the brook water into a blue plastic rain barrel close to the fire. He replaces the stewpot with a pot of water, then goes back inside.
He comes out carrying a wine glass and some dishes on a board, with a big, pink napkin tucked into the front of his red plaid shirt. Ben buries his face in his arms to muffle his hyena laughing.
The hermit pulls his bench up to a huge stump beside the fire. He ladles out some of the stew, fills his glass and starts eating, patting the corners of his mouth with the napkin every now and then. Something about him reminds me of Nana. He looks fussy, or what Nana used to call finicky. Between bites, he takes sips from the wine glass, closing his eyes and stroking his scruffy beard. He's chewing and humming loudly at the same time, drumming his fingers on one leg.
As he's eating, a fat raccoon waddles into the clearing and climbs up onto the bench right beside him.
"Sweet!" I mouth to Ben.
The man opens his eyes and laughs. "Tastes every bit as good as it smells, Rocky." He picks something off his plate, and the raccoon snatches it up with its grabby paws, then starts nibbling on it. The hermit laughs again and gives him another piece.
"Don't raccoons mostly eat bugs and eggs they steal from nests?" Ben shout-whispers.
I nod. "And garbage."
After Rocky shuffles away, the hermit takes his dirty dishes and a bucket of hot water back down to the brook.
"This is so cool," I say. "Like watching a movie."
Ben shrugs and unwraps another caramel. "An Outdoor Life Network documentary, maybe. You ever see that show, "The Beaver Brothers," about those two old guys that allegedly live in the back of beyond somewhere?"
"You should. It's freakin' hilarious. They're total rednecks."
When the hermit comes back, he bends over to stir the fire. And cranks out a big one. Not like he's trying to sneak it out, either. Definitely not a silent but deadly, SBD.
"Excremental! He plays the butt trumpet, too," Ben says, blasting out a laugh before I can slap a hand over his big mouth.
The hermit spins around.
"Idiot," I hiss. "You suck as a P.I. Seriously."
"Who's there?" The guy's voice is more like a mad teacher's than an old man's.
I press my chin to the ground and watch his laser eyes gradually zeroing in on me and Ben. When he picks up the axe and starts marching toward the bank below us, I grab my hat and backpack and jump up.
"Crazy crapdoodles," Ben says, elbowing me out of the way and butting in front of me.
"What do you think you're doing, you sneaky varmints? Get off my property!"
"The Hermit is a funny, suspenseful, unexpectedly poignant adventure about family, friendship, and the importance of standing up for the people and places you care about." —Jennifer McGrath, award-winning author of Chocolate River Rescue and The Snow Knows