Incident at Hawk's Hill

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Incident at Hawk's Hill
Incident at Hawk's Hill - 1st edition cover.jpg
Author Allan W. Eckert
Illustrator John Schoenherr
Language English
Genre Historical fiction
Publisher Little, Brown
Publication date
Pages 173
ISBN 0-553-26696-9
Followed by Return to Hawk's Hill

Incident at Hawk's Hill is a Newbery Honor book by naturalist and writer Allan W. Eckert published in 1971. Supposedly based on a true event,[1] it is an historical fiction novel centering on a six-year-old boy who gets lost on the Canadian prairie and survives thanks to a mother badger. Though the Newbery is an award for children's literature, Incident at Hawk's Hill was originally published as an adult novel.[2] It was also an American Library Association Notable book.[3]


Incident at Hawk's Hill opens in 1870, on Hawk's Hill, the farm of William and Esther MacDonald, set in the Canadian Prairies about twenty miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The MacDonalds have four children. The first three are quite ordinary, but their fourth child, six-year-old Ben, is "the greatest problem of the MacDonald family".[1]:xvi Highly intelligent but mute around most people, Ben especially loves his older brother John, but feels more comfortable with the wild animals on the farm than most people. The MacDonalds' new neighbor is George Burton, a cruel thief and bully who always travels with his mean dog, Lobo. Also in the vicinity is a huge female badger who is preparing tunnels and a sett or den, for the babies that will soon arrive.

One day, while following a prairie chicken, Ben wanders too far away from home and becomes lost. A late-afternoon storm drives him to shelter in a rock outcropping where he encounters the badger sow who is hiding there after being injured in one of Burton's traps. While she was trapped, her babies have died, so the mother badger brings food for Ben, and he begins imitating her movement and sounds, even sleeping during the day and following her as she hunts at night. One night when Lobo attacks the badger Ben defends her by biting Lobo's leg, distracting him and enabling the badger to kill him. Despite the badger's continued help, after two months it becomes apparent that Ben is starving.

The search for Ben lasts two months, with everyone except his family eventually deciding he must have drowned in the nearby Red River. But Ben's father vows to never stop looking, and the entire family hunts for him every day. When John finally discovers Ben among the rocks and reaches out for him, Ben fights like a wild animal, growling and biting his brother. John subdues Ben and takes him home. The mother badger follows, and eventually becomes uneasily accepted by the family as Ben's protector. Talking about his experiences leads Ben to become more comfortable with people, and he even begins looking forward to going to school. A show-down between Mr. MacDonald and George Burton over the badger finally unites Ben and his father. The story ends with the truth of Ben's adventure being re-interpreted by the locals as a parable of God's care for the lost, and by the First Nations as a tale bringing honor to their chief.


Every edition of Incident at Hawk's Hill contains this author's note: "The story which follows is a slightly fictionalized version of an incident which actually occurred at the time and place noted."[1]:vi However, no evidence of this was provided by the author.[4] Author and professor Kenneth Kidd, who has studied stories of feral children, believes Eckert may have based his book on local legends. In "Leave It to Badger: Allan W. Eckert's Incident at Hawk's Hill", he says of the author's note, "I have not been able to find anything else about the incident behind the fiction."[4]

The Manitoba Historical Society magazine Manitoba Pageant in 1960 published an article entitled "The Boy Who Lived in a Badger Hole".[5] The article details sufficient information from an 1873 reported incident of a lost boy found 10 days later living in a badger hole, to be the evidence Professor Kidd was unable to find. Eckert's use of the word slightly before fictionalized may be reason for debate.

Critical reception[edit]

Incident at Hawk's Hill was a Newbery Honor book in 1972.[6] It also received a Recognition of Merit from the George C. Stone Center for Children's Books, the Austrian Juvenile Book of the Year Award,[7] and was named an ALA Notable Book.[3]

Kirkus Reviews, however, did not give the book a positive review, calling it an "overblown and curiously old-fashioned tale...".[8]

Editions, adaptations[edit]

Selected as a Reader's Digest Condensed Book,[9] Incident at Hawk's Hill was not initially published as a children's novel.[2] The illustrations by John Schoenherr have been used in both the original adult and later children's editions, although the cover art has changed over the years.[10]

Disney has released two movie versions of Incident at Hawk's Hill. The first, called The Boy who Talked to Badgers, was telecast on The Wonderful World of Disney in 1975.[11] Disney later sold the film to schools under the book title.[12]


  1. ^ a b c Eckert, Allan W (1987). Incident at Hawk's Hill. Bantam Doubleday. ISBN 0-553-26696-9. 
  2. ^ a b Parravano, Martha (July–August 1999). "'Alive and Vigorous': Questioning the Newbery". The Horn Book Magazine. Retrieved June 6, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Anne Commrie (1985). Something About the Author. 37. Gale Research. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-8103-0069-9. 
  4. ^ a b Kidd, Kenneth (September 2004). "Leave It to Badger: Allan W. Eckert's Incident at Hawk's Hill". The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature. 8 (3). Retrieved June 6, 2012. 
  5. ^ Bowsfield, Hartwell (January 1960). "The Boy Who Lived in a Badger Hole". Manitoba Pageant. 5 (2). Retrieved February 24, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Newbery Awards". American Library Association. Retrieved May 15, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Allan W. Eckert, Awards and Honors". Ohioana Authors. Ohioana Library Association. Retrieved June 6, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Kirkus Review: Incident at Hawk's Hill". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved June 6, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Reader's Digest Condensed Books Vol 1". Retrieved June 6, 2012. 
  10. ^ "All editions for 'Incident at Hawk's Hill'". WorldCat. Retrieved June 6, 2012. 
  11. ^ "The Boy Who Talked to Badgers". Movie Details. Blockbuster. Retrieved June 6, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Incident at Hawk's Hill (film)". WorldCat. Retrieved June 6, 2012. 

External links[edit]