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Children's Fiction Orphans & Foster Homes

The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw

by (author) Lois Peterson

Orca Book Publishers
Initial publish date
Apr 2010
Orphans & Foster Homes, Westerns, Imagination & Play
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2010
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Apr 2010
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
  • Reading age: 9 to 12


After eight-year-old Kevin Mason's mother abandons him, he takes refuge in his fantasy of becoming Knuckles McGraw, a tough cowboy roaming the plains on his legendary horse, Burlington Northern. But instead of riding the range, Kevin is stuck in a foster home with a pierced and tattooed teenager named Ice and a mute girl named Breezy.
While he waits to be claimed by the father he barely remembers or the mother who left him a good-bye note in his lunchbox, Kevin (aka Knuckles McGraw) tries to communicate with Breezy, learns to get along with his bunkhouse-mate Ice, and discovers that memories can be as deceptive as family secrets.

About the author

Lois Peterson wrote short stories and articles for adults for twenty years before turning to writing for kids. She was bornin England and has lived in Iraq, France and the United States. Recently retired from her job as a librarian, she now lives in Surrey, British Columbia, where she writes, reads and teaches creative writing to adults, teens and children. Lois is the author of several books for children and youth, including Beyond Repair in the Orca Currents series.

Lois Peterson's profile page


  • Short-listed, Chocolate Lily nominee
  • Commended, Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year
  • Short-listed, Silver Birch Express Award nominee
  • Commended, CCBC Best Books
  • Commended, OLA Best Bets

Excerpt: The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw (by (author) Lois Peterson)

If Burlington Northern were tied up outside, Knuckles McGraw could leap through the window right onto his back and gallop away before anyone knew he was gone. But for now he has to creep down the stairs, avoiding the creaky ones, carrying his shoes in one hand and his lunch kit in the other. He shoves his shoes under his arm so he can turn the front-door handle. It opens without making a sound.

Editorial Reviews

"A humorous yet sensitive story…[Peterson] fills the story with a host of characters who are unusual yet kind and as we hear their stories we develop empathy for each of them."

Canadian Children's Book News

"The author understands how kids think, a fact that will allow the kids in your library to thoroughly enjoy this book...Recommended."

Library Media Connection

"Peterson's fiction is a welcomed addition to an elementary school library…She incorporates interesting characters, well-developed plots, and sensitive handling of realistic issues written at an appropriate age level. I tip my cowboy hat to Peterson and the 'Orca Young Readers' series and hope I will be reading more of her work in the future. Highly Recommended."

CM Magazine

"Readers will certainly be drawn to the plucky, appealing grade-schooler and the terrible plight he so bravely faces."


"Peterson...has written another great story for young readers. While the story is simply crafted, her language is a delight and readers will be kept engaged...The book exceeds tremendously in inspiring hope."

Resource Links

Librarian Reviews

The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw

Peterson has caught perfectly the emotions and struggle of a young boy whose mother has abandoned him. Kevin Mason found a note in his Wagon Train lunch box that read “Please look after my son. I can’t look after him any more.” He is taken into foster care where he finally has structure in his life. It is the family he has craved for so long, although he misses his mother and wants her back in his life. Social Services finds his grandparents, who he only vaguely remembers. Kevin insists that he stay at his apartment so his mother will be able to find him when she comes back. Very understanding grandparents coax him through his anxieties and he goes to live with them. The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw is a song his retired cowboy grandfather has written about Kevin’s alter-ego.

Peterson also wrote the Young Orca Reader, Meeting Miss 405.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2010-2011.

Other titles by Lois Peterson