Posts tagged ‘westward expansion’

WAGONS HO!

Wagon Train Kids Headed West for Gold

Written by K.B. Shaper

Wagontrainkids,pic

Middle grade historical fiction tale focusing on Jack and his younger sister Mary. The family lives on a farm in Connecticut. One day the children are shocked to learn that their parents are selling everything and heading West on a wagon train in the hopes of finding gold in the California hills. The author traces the journey as the family heads north to Albany and then west to Missouri. There they meet Mr. Booth, the wagon master who will guide them to California.

Shaper goes into detail about the supplies and the preparation needed to prepare for the journey. I do think more time should have been spent describing in detail what the children saw on the journey. In that respect the plot is a bit uneven. One night the members of the wagon train observe someone watching them. Jack and Mary are warned to run if their father signals them. The adventure begins when the children become separated from their parents and are left on their own. A kindly stranger rescues them and brings them into San Francisco, where they work to earn their keep. Will the children be reunited with their parents and what happened to the rest of the members of the wagon train?

The story ends abruptly, if satisfactorily. Some readers may question whether telling the children to run and hide and that they will be found when the danger is past is a realistic scenario. The plot features a traditional nuclear family story with a bit of history about the mid nineteenth century, but may be short of adventure for some 21st century readers. I would still recommend it as an easy chapter book for early middle grade readers. Teachers might use it as a read aloud to supplement this period of American history.

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KANSAS KIN

Butter in the Well: A Scandinavian Woman’s Tale of Life on the Prairie

Written by Linda K. Hubalek

butterinthewell,pic

Dedicated to Maja Kajsa Svensson Runneberg, the homesteader who settled the Kansas farm on which the author grew up, this work of historical fiction is written in first person as if the journal of Kajsa, the protagonist. The author carefully researched her life in the late 1800’s in the Smoky Valley of Kansas. Many Swedes emigrated because famine, crop failure and social structure prevented Sweden’s farmers from earning a living. Large numbers of families sold their possessions to buy passage to America; many wound up in Kansas after the Homestead Act of 1862 offered free land to those willing to settle there.

Kajsa and her husband Carl arrived with their infant daughter in 1868. They did not know the language, brought little money, and had no roof over their heads. Brutal winters, hot summers, crop failures, insect plagues, windstorms, and disease claimed many of the settlers’ lives. Kajsa’s story traces her journey, living underground in a sod house, making friends with neighboring Swedes, the arrival and death of family members. As they alternately take steps forward and face calamities, Kajsa enjoys the heights of joy and falls to the depths of despair when Carl is struck and killed by lightning. Time passes slowly, but within the next twenty years, the Smoky Valley will see the rise of churches, schools, towns, and even railroads.

The reader wants to cheer and cry while following Kajsa’s journey. Hubalek says the book is appropriate for ages nine through ninety-nine. Those who have an interest in history, memoirs, or psychology will enjoy the book. Though the plethora of details provided sometimes become tedious, the photographs, maps, and recipes are a pleasant addition. Teachers interested in giving students a unique perspective on Westward expansion will find this book useful.

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