Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tree of Freedom, by Rebecca Caudill

This cover.  Oh, this cover.  It sent me into the book with so much confusion.  Firstly, the summary on the back of the jacket tells me that Stephanie and her family are moving from Kentucky to Carolina when the reverse is actually true.  Then the jacket illustration (to left) shows an oddly-proportioned Stephanie gently fingering the titular tree with a strange expression on her face, as if the tree has told her something but she's not quite sure she heard it right.  And in the back, a dark, brooding, black-haired boy gazing her way.  Perhaps a mysterious Indian, full of longing for our fair Stephanie?  Nope, just one of her sulky brothers (although which sulky brother he is remains unclear).  All of this goes to prove that you really can't judge a book by its cover because, once my mind switched gears and caught on that the family was moving from Carolina to Kentucky, I really liked it.

The book takes place in 1780.  The rich land of Kentucky is open for claims, and Stephanie's father has reserved his piece by planting corn two years prior.  It's time for the Venable family to move and settle it.  The family consists of thirteen-year-old Stephanie (our protagonist), her parents, her older brother, her two younger brothers, and younger sister.  Her mother comes from a French family of high regard, and can even read (although only the French in the family's Huguenot Bible).  Stephanie's father, on the other hand, is a simple and practical sort who has no patience for anything beyond the basics (including education for his children, who cannot read at all), and requires them to pack sparingly, leaving even treasured heirlooms behind in Carolina.

When the family finally arrives and has their claim surveyed, they have a lot of work ahead of them.  They need to clear trees, plant crops for food, and build shelter.  Their claim won't be official until December, giving the courts time to hear any competing claimants, but they need to invest everything they have into the land.  Additionally, the Revolution has reached even Kentucky, with British claims in competition with Virginia-issued ones, and no one knowing which will have precedence until the independence movement is either quashed or successful.

This was a surprisingly engaging book about creating a new home from nothing during very tumultuous times.  It would have appeal for anyone with a fondness for the Little House books.

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