From School Library Journal
Grade 4-8 Set 18,000 years ago in prehistoric France, this is the story of a 14-year-old boy who longs to be a cave painter. This is forbidden, however, because Tao is not a Chosen Onehe's a tribal outcast with a crippled foot and no father to claim him. Forced into isolation by the superstitious leader, he befriends a wolf dog, Ram (another taboo), and the shaman, Greybeard, who teaches him to paint. When the tribe discovers this, they pit him against Saxon, the sacred bull. Tao is developed sympathetically, but his handicap is really a plot device to set up the central problem, for he has already overcome its physical drawbacks; it is the taboos and biases of his people over which he must triumph. The emotional connections between Tao and important minor characters are not conveyed strongly enough for readers to become involved and care. The motivations of the shaman are not always clear, and the cynicism he displays toward Tao smacks too much of a modern person sneering at savages, preventing readers from being swept up in the possible mindset of those who could believe in magic. There is no mystical wonderment at creation so beautifully evoked in Ann Turner's Time of the Bison (Macmillan, 1987). The taming of the wild dog is not as convincing as in Pryor's Seth of the Lion People (Morrow, 1988), which handles similar plot elements with more satisfying results, although both books occasionally use jarring anachronisms in their language. Despite its flaws, this book is interesting enough to introduce middle-graders to historical fiction. The superb cover will attract children, and, while the plot resolution seems a little forced, the exciting high points and the convincing setting will draw readers through.