fulltext with illustrations, hooray! A decision was made that the "pioneers" tag should also apply to homesteading for brevity, so this book will have no covered wagons in it for you!
New Land actually takes place in roughly the 1920's. The Morgan family (seventeen-year-old twins Charles and Sayre, younger sister Hitty, and their father) are migrating from Chicago to greener pastures in Wisconsin. Their father is the restless type who has never been able to stay in one place for long without becoming discontented, so the family has been unsettled for a long time, and especially since the death of his wife three years prior from pneumonia. A coworker had tried homesteading and had failed at it, and offered the land and buildings to the Morgan family to try to settle themselves on. Sayre is truly hoping that this will finally be their long-term home. The book is told from her perspective.
Upon arriving in Upton, Wyoming, the family settles into the little house and gets to know the town. Since the area is already settled and somewhat established, there is a town center with store (run by Mr. Hoskins, the town's most prominent citizen), a high school, and a small community. But when Mr. Morgan goes to the land office to register his claim, he learns that he is simply not qualified to file. He has no farming experience and no equipment, and because so many farmers had failed in this particular area, the government had become more selective. Sympathetically, the land agent tells them that they can certainly remain where they are, but they will have no legal claim on the land they farm.
It's at this time that Sayre develops a plan. She's fallen in love with this new land and won't leave willingly. She goes to the local teacher and meets the agriculture instructor there. Although he's surprised that a girl wants to register for his classes, he agrees to seek permission from the board on her behalf. As Mr. Kitchell is also the football coach, she hopes that he will be able to use that influence on her football-loving brother to encourage him into the class as well. Sayre hopes that they can, between them, learn enough about farming to keep their family in its place.
Although Sayre is decisive and optimistic, not everyone is rooting for their success. The Morgans quickly discover that Upton has a lot of small-town politics, and that those who are ahead wish to remain there, on the backs of their neighbors. Additionally, the man who originally leased his claim to them returns to "visit," and Sayre quickly intuits that he has misled them, intending to lay claim to their hard work on the land to "prove up" the claim for himself.
There are a lot of factors working against the Morgans, and they are all well-developed (as are the characters). I especially enjoyed reading this one; the Little House series primed me to enjoy a good homesteading success story, and this one is exceptionally well-written. I won't spoil the resolution here, you can rest assured in the fact that the final chapter is entitled "The Happy Ending."
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Friday, May 5, 2017
While Jim is tracking animals, he's also being tracked down by two Indians. A paper letter has been making its way from hand to hand trying to reach him, and it had finally arrived. Neither Jim nor his companion can read well enough to interpret it. All he knows is that it may have come from his (biological) brother. So he heads to the nearest fort to find some one who can read the letter for him, a trip that takes more than a week.
When Jim reaches The Dalles, he learns that his parents have died and his siblings, all youth, are on their own heading to Oregon to homestead. But they need his help: the oldest, Johnnie, can't make a land claim because he isn't yet 18. Jim is their last hope to establish a home, even if he only signs the paperwork before leaving again. And coincidentally, the family is at the fort now. Jim feels the pull of them, even though they haven't seen each other in ages. He agrees to travel with them, but chafes under their rules and expectations. His sister, Sally, doesn't care for his braids and medicine bundle. Johnnie gets angry when he teaches the youngest, Dan'l, the ways of the woods instead of helping. And once they complete the journey and find land in the Willamette Valley, it seems that everyone is angry with him: he's not a farmer or a carpenter. He doesn't understand the need to plow and sow when the land is rich with game and natural crops. He doesn't like feeling confined in a cabin when his teepee goes up much more quickly, is more snug, and is portable. This lifestyle doesn't suit his inclinations, but he realizes that he has become lonely for his family and desperately wants Johnnie's approval.
This was a really well-written book that did a fantastic job of developing the main characters. The reader really comes to sympathize with Jim's inner struggles and to hope he finds his place in the world. I was admittedly disappointed in the ending (Jim settles down and goes "full white"), but it may seem a far more fitting conclusion to others.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
We've encountered our good friend Alice Dalgliesh twice before. However, unlike the other youth novels we've covered in the blog, this is intended for much younger readers. Although it's divided into chapters, this is definitely a one-sitting read.
Jonathan lives by the foot of a mid-sized hill, named (not especially accurately) Hemlock Mountain. His family is planning to host a christening, but because they have such a large extended family they will need to borrow aunt Emma's giant soup tureen. Because the adults are busy with preparations, Jonathan is sent over the hill to bring it back. Although no bear has been seen there in recent memory, Jonathan is still concerned about heading out alone (he's never been before). Not especially reassured by his parents' insistence that there are no bears on Hemlock Mountain, he heads out and reaches his destination safely.
Stomach full from aunt Emma's cookies, Jonathan naps in her chair and forgets that he was charged with returning with the soup tureen before dark. He wakes up just in time to lug it back up the hill. But as dusk falls, Jonathan sees two sets of eyes attached to two dark, hulking bodies, moving through the trees. . . what to do?
This book would make a fantastic read-aloud for younger children. I may read it to mine before it goes back to the library!
Fourteen-year-old Michele lives on the island of Capri with his parents. They tend a small inn together but can barely make ends meet. At the beginning of the book, a boat with beautiful red sails, unlike any seen before, approaches the island and three foreigners depart. Because it is the off season, Michele's family would be beyond thrilled to host them. Michele's fisherman friend, Angelo, agrees to intercept the visitors and make sure they don't go to the competitor, while Michele races home to warn his parents so they can prepare the vacant hotel.
When the guests arrive, the Pagano family learns that they are foreigners from three different countries, each pursuing a different passion. Lord Derby, from England, has come to seek beauty and to paint. Herre Erik Nordstrom, from Denmark, is a student of Philosophy and seeks truth. Monsieur Jacques Tiersonnier, a Frenchman, is a writer in search of adventure.
The three guests, and the Paganos, find their source of adventure soon enough. Monsieur Jacques brings Michele and his best friend, Pietro, for a sail in his fabulous red-sailed boat. They pass a cove that the visitors would like to explore, but it is forbidden among the islanders to even discuss the cove, let alone the reasons it is off-limits to visit the cave there. But the visitors, new to the strange social stigma of discussing this topic in this far-flung locale, are having none of it. Once they hear the legend, they make plans to return to discover the truth of the cove and the cave.
This was a light and fun read. It's also fortunate that the book was reasonably short since none of the reveal about the cave actually happens until very close to the end. But it is reasonably firmly based on a true story, which I would have liked a brief summary of at the end.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Let's talk about Shiloh. I remember seeing it around in many classrooms, but never actually read it until recently. It was never required, and I knew it was about a dog, and I didn't think I liked dogs (little did I know...). I should have picked it up - although, I suspect I would have missed a TON of the point of this book if I'd read it at 12.
This was a quick read for an adult, I easily finished it in an afternoon. The story isn't complicated - kid wants a dog, his parents say no, kid finds a dog, and tries to keep it himself without his parents knowing. Things go south.
But in the end, there's a lot of discussion about feelings that I think most kids - and let's be honest, adults too - are familiar with. Guilt. Having a bad secret. Unreliability of people around you. How you feel when your bad choice has horrible consequences. And, that things can work out after all once you own up to your mistakes and start picking up the pieces.
Confession: I read this almost two years ago, intending to blog about it right away...and here I am. I still think about it often, though, which I think says an awful lot.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
The book is a short novel, punctuated with some beautiful, although somewhat understated, Lynd Ward illustrations.
Thankful Curtis is the youngest of five siblings. Her four older brothers have long since married and moved to the mainland, and she remains on Bright Island with her practical Scottish mother and her gruff sailor father. She loves the rhythms of her days- early morning swims, sailing in her boat, and doing any of the manual labor that needs doing.
Unfortunately, her family doesn't see the life she loves as completely suitable for a girl. Her recently-deceased grandfather willed money for her education, and her family (and especially her meddling older sisters-in-law) have decided that this is the the year that Thankful will head to the mainland to attend school. Her mother has taught her all she can, and her father believes it's time for her to learn "what a girl's for." New clothes are chosen for her to replace her practical denim and overalls. But thankful does take a few things into her own hands- she immediately sails her girdle out to sea and drops it overboard, and refuses to live under the thumb of a sister-in-law while on the mainland. She decides to spend some of her inheritance to board.
The remainder of the book deals with Thankful's one year of school (she's sufficiently advanced from home study that she will be able to graduate after just two terms). She has to adjust to the school schedule, being surrounded by crowds, speaking in class, having a roommate, and not having constant access to the sea, while maintaining her own identity and choosing her own path.
It's a nice, gentle coming-of-age story and has a few similarities to the Anne of Avonlea miniseries that I was automatically a fan. It also occurs during the nice lull where the first World War is too far away for the protagonist to be affected by, and the second is not yet on the horizon.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
The book starts with a wide, over-arching summary of the various forms of art and architecture of the native peoples of North, Central, and South America. Because none of these things are presented in any sort of useful context, only in comparison with each other, this portion of the book is really a mile wide and an inch deep.
Next, the author discusses the migration across the Bering Strait, and then gives several specific people groups a more in-depth treatment, discussing their lifestyles as they were understood at the time.
I don't really think this book would be useful today as a children's reference volume; I would honestly point a child toward something published more recently with more targeted information on a specific topic or people group.