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K-12 Evaluated Resource Collection

Beast Rider

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Author/Publisher/Website: Johnston, T.
Copyright: 2019
Evaluation/Record Entry Date: Nov/2019
Submitting suppliers/Website: Not Available
Primary Identifier: 9781419733635
Recommended Grades and Subjects/Courses: 6-8
(View recommended grades and subjects)

Resource Description

Manuel is a twelve-year-old Mexican boy who risks his life to join his brother in Los Angeles and embarks on a dangerous journey by means of freight trains in order to cross the US border illegally. Manuel must face serious obstacles such as injury, hunger, detention by police, and numerous dangerous encounters with ill-intentioned characters. This adventurous story of a young boy’s resilience and motivation to reconnect with his brother could be used to supplement social justice and geopolitical conversations in a Grade 6–8 classroom. It is also appropriate for extension activities around non-fiction explorations of immigration or refugee experiences.


Does the resource support BC curriculum?
This product supports the Core Competencies of the BC curriculum:
Critical thinking
Positive Personal and Cultural Identity
Social Responsibility
Grade 6–8 English Language Arts Big Ideas include "exploring stories and other texts helps us understand ourselves and make connections to others the world" and "questioning what we hear, read, and view contributes to our ability to be educated and engaged citizens." Curricular Competencies emphasized are to "construct meaningful personal connections between self, text, and world," and to "recognize and identify the role of personal, social, and cultural contexts, values, and perspectives..." Social Studies connections include "global poverty and inequality issues." In addition, meaningful reflection on the Positive Personal and Cultural Identity Core Competencies can be encouraged.


A woman hires Manuel and another young man as illegal labourers. When they are inexperienced at felling trees and are unable to understand her, she lashes out with insults, including that Mexicans are ruining the country and they need a wall to keep them out.
Socio Economic:
Manuel's family lives in a rural village where many amenities and advantages are not available. Upon Manuel's arrival in Los Angeles, he is forced to seek employment for which he is underpaid and where he is subjected to verbal harassment, with no recourse due to the desperation of his undocumented status.
Manuel is severely beaten and left unconscious by a gang. He is shot at by police and branded with a hot iron by a gang leader. Another traveler trying to cross the border is shot and injured or killed, creating a distraction that allows Manuel to safely cross the border.
There are references to gangs and the drug trade. The whole story is premised on the protagonist secretly crossing the Mexico-US border without permission or documentation. His brother arranges a smuggler to help Manuel cross the border, and warns Manuel that he can't be completely trusted and not to anger him, because he has killed people.
Manuel runs away at twelve years old to join his brother in the USA. He places his safety in jeopardy by boarding moving trains and by relying on the kindness of strangers, some of whom take advantage and steal from him, or threaten his well-being. There are multiple references to the dangers of boarding the train, including the possibility of severe injury or loss of life. Manuel encounters a young boy who has lost a foot and bleeds to death in his family's field, another village boy who walks with a cane from his injuries, and a traveler who is pursued by a police dog then lets go of a ladder and gets crushed under the train.
Do the social considerations support, rather than detract from, student learning?
Social Considerations Comments:
Careful consideration in using this text is recommended. It may prove to be triggering for students who might have experienced challenging immigration or refugee experiences, or who are sensitive to violence or loss. It is a compelling story that has some scenes that readers may find graphic. Though they are not gratuitous scenes, students with good visualization skills and sensitivities to violence or trauma may find the content troubling. The dangers depicted throughout Manuel's journey may make for uncomfortable reading, but the experiences become essential to understanding and appreciating Manuel's character development, and ultimately the depicted story arc.


Is the resource engaging?
Is the content current for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content accurate for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content timely and important for student broad understandings?
Is the content appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
Does the resource provide opportunities for creative and critical thinking?
Is the level of detail appropriate?
Is the language use appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
The text provides a compelling story with a character who is likable and relatable. He encounters very mature situations and the story depicts his development—physically and emotionally—in response to the adversity he encounters. It would be helpful to engage in preparing readers for the sensitive situations that Manuel encounters by doing some pre-research to explore the context for the novel, as well as understandings about the political context regarding Mexico-US border issues. Guided conversation would also help readers to deal with the mature content in the book.


Does the resource make effective use of the medium?
Is the resource easy to use?
Is the use of font, text size and presentation uniform?
Are extraneous elements/illustrations kept to a minimum?
“Beast Rider” is a 159-page novel divided into twenty-eight chapters. The book is structured in two parts, where the first part depicts the "The Journey," and the second depicts "The Angels," or Manuel's arrival in Los Angeles.


Does the text show insight into the complexity of the human condition?
Does the text broaden students’ experiences and understanding?
To what degree is this text stylistically rich?
Plot description:
Manuel decides to leave his rural Mexican village to follow his brother to the United States. He sets off on a journey, boarding freight trains to travel to and cross the border. He experiences a series of obstacles including serious injury, hunger, theft, detention by the police, and dangerous encounters with ill-intentioned characters in order to reunite with his brother. When Manuel is finally reunited with Tono, he does not find it easy to acclimate to his new life. Manuel feels lonely and suffers from what his brother calls "train trauma." Through conversations with Tono's elderly neighbour, Manuel continues to evaluate the role and importance of family.
Related Comments:
The story has merit as a contemporary text in depicting a common and realistic migrant journey. It uses some unique language devices by including Spanish phrases and terms whose meaning is typically clear from its context, and the repetition of words to create a unique voice. It is an adventurous story that provides compelling insight into the lengths that people will go to remain connected to their loved ones, and in pursuit of the perceived "American Dream." Themes of perseverance, identity, and one's sense of home are evident in the developing action and resolution of the story.
Literary Highlights:
Well-developed themes
Effective figurative language


At intended grade level(s)
The novel includes a glossary of Spanish terms to assist with translating the meaning of some of the words that are used throughout the text that may not be clear from their context. An authors' note at the end provides some context and information about "La Bestia: The Beast... a network of freight trains that move from southern Mexico to the US border" and provides some insight to the motivation and inspiration to write this particular story.


The book could be used to supplement social justice and geopolitical conversations. Using it as a read-aloud would provide opportunities for facilitated conversations and for the teacher to be aware of sensitivities that may arise. It could be used as an extension of non-fiction explorations of immigration and/or refugee experiences. With significant teacher support, this novel could be used in literature circles at the upper end of this grade range.