Literary Genres: Frontier & Pioneer Life


Cullen, Lynn.  NELLY IN THE WILDERNESS.  New York: Harper, 2002.
    184p.  0-06-029133-8; hb., 15,95  0-06-029134-6; lib.bdg., $15.89
    2001-039516   Gr. 4-8     FIC

    Eleven-year-old Nelly Vandorn, who lives in the Indiana wilderness near Fort Wayne in 1821 with her older brother and parents, loses her mother.  When her father goes off, men at the fort tell Cornelius that their father has probably gone off to start a new family.  When their father returns with a young bride, the siblings make a pact to make Margery’s life miserable.  This is not difficult because Margery, a professor’s daughter, is inept and cannot translate what she reads into practical action.  When Margery becomes pregnant their worst fears are realized.  There is lots of action in the book.  John Chapman stops by several times and saves Nelly’s life, Pa gives Nelly a “critter” to love but the mountain lion cub soon becomes too big to handle, Cornelius goes to the forbidden fort to be near a girl, Nelly has a yearning to learn to read, and little by little Margery becomes part of their lives until tragedy strikes.  This is a satisfying book about the hardships of frontier and pioneer life.
    Mary Ann Paulin; Director, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI
    32 years of experience as a school library/media specialist

Erdrich, Louise.  THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE.  Illus by the author.  New York:  Hyperion,
    1999.  244p.  0-7868-0300-2; hb.   0-7868-2241-4; lib.bdg.  98-46366   Gr. 4-6+    FIC     
   
PAULIN'S PICKS

      Told in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books, this is the story of Omakayas, a 7-year-old Anishinabe girl (Chippewa/Ojibwa), who lived in 1847 on an island in Lake Superior off the coast of present day Minnesota..  In searching her family tree, the author found roots on Madeline Island and found the name of the heroine, Oh-MAY-kay-ahs in an old census.  The story begins with a brief passage about a girl child who is the only survivor of smallpox which killed everyone in her village.  The chapters take Omakayas, Little Frog, through seasons of the year and readers share in the activities of Anishinabeg family life: making a birchbark house; scraping a moose hide; making makazins; keeping birds from eating the corn; picking heartberries; gathering wild rice; and sugaring maple.  Customs are also woven into the total book: giving of names; offering tobacco as thanks; caring for infants; recounting visions and dreams; eating habits; and honoring plants and animal life.  A variety of wildlife from the WOODLANDS HABITAT find themselves part of the story: a striped snake; squirrel; raccoon; crow; moose; bears; and a one horned deer.
      Readers feel they know the heroine because they share experiences with her:  meeting bears; enjoying her pet crow, Andeg;  caring for her baby brother; tolerating her pesky younger brother; surviving another smallpox epidemic and mourning the loss of a family member;  learning to write her name in Zhaganashimowin, the white man's language;  having a vision; accepting her vocation as a healer; and learning the story of herself.  Erdrich does an excellent job of presenting the supporting characters; readers feel that they know this Anishinabeg family by their description, or own words, and actions.  Father, Deyde, tells stories, plays chess with his French father's set, wears a fancy earring,  is gone part of the year, and chops wood for his family even though he is ill.  The older sister, Angeline, breaks the small mirror when she sees her face after having smallpox.  Pinch, the pesky younger brother is constantly in trouble but brings laughter, into their lives after the terrible winter.  Grandmother says "the soul of the Anishinabeg is made of laughter.  If there is no laughter, the soul dies."   Nakomas, Grandma, tells stories and shares her medicine.   Old Tallow, an eccentric, weaves her way through the book until she tells Omakayas a story which ties up all the loose ends of book and binds those two characters together.  Even the other members of the tribe appear to be real people.   The author's pencil sketches of Deyde and Old Tallow dispel preconceived notions what the Anishinabeg looked like and the text provides a real picture of a native family during the middle of the 17th century.
      Erdrich weaves several legends into the book with the same grace that Yep includes a story in STARFISHER (Morrow, 1991).  Deyde tells a ghost story, Grandma tells a story about her grandparents and one about how Nanabozho and Muskrat make an island, and Old Tallow tells a personal story.  Read stories aloud about  Manabozho/Nanabozho, from Leekley's classic THE WORLD OF MANABOZHO: TALES OF THE CHIPPEWA INDIANS (Vanguard, 1965, op) and have students enjoy Greene's MANABOZHO'S GIFTS (Houghton Mifflin, 1994). Which hopefully will be published in a paperback edition. A glossary and pronunciation guide of Ojibwa terms is helpful.  The end papers include a map of the island and another showing  it's relationship to Lake Superior.
      Teachers and librarians, especially in the Great Lake States where there are Chippewa/Ojibwa, will be excited about this book.   Every fourth grade teacher who is responsible for Michigan history, and similar teachers in Wisconsin and Minnesota, will want to have a copy of this book to read aloud to students.  Every Upper Peninsula school and public library should own this book because the setting is so close and boundaries are artificial.     But this is not just a book with local color, it is a book that brings a native family to life so that children can appreciate the Anishinabeg who were here before the white man came.  Although Erdrich has written winning books for adults, this is her first book for children; may she write many more.  This book is a winner!  Place your order today.
     Mary Ann Paulin; Director, Superiorland Preview Center
     32 years of experience as a school library/media specialist

Holm, Jennifer L.  OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA.  New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
    253p. 0-06-027822-6; hb., $15.95    0-06-4408566; pb., $4.95  98-47504
    Gr.  3-8    FIC         PAULIN'S PICKS

    Although this book was set in Washington state in 1899, it could have taken place in Michigan's Upper Peninsula or Northern Minnesota because it is about a Finnish-American farming and logging family.  Also familiar is a river for fishing and fun and a body of water large enough to accommodate a sea captain and his ship.  The narrator is May Amelia,  a 12-year-old tomboy in a family of seven brothers, one of whom is really a cousin.  The author used a great-aunt's diary to lend authenticity to her setting but used her own experiences (as a tomboy  growing up with four brothers) to put flesh on this first person narrative.
    Although everyone "is conspiring to make me a Proper Young Lady," May says "I do not think being a Proper Young Lady sounds like any fun at all."   May makes her own fun which often turns into mischief and sometimes gets her in trouble, like when she stepped in a animal  trap set by cousin Kaarlo, her nemeses.  Readers share May's secret place, commiserate with her when her papa is hard on her because she is a girl, understand her relationships with the boys in her family, worry about the brother who has a non-Finnish girlfriend, work with sheep named for neighbors, gillnet with an uncle, look forward to a new baby, and confront death.
    May Amelia has as much in common with Becky Thatcher, Caddie Woodlawn, Jo March, and Laura Ingalls as she does with Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Harry Potter.  She is spunky, or as the Finnish say, she has SISU, guts.   Besides being the only girl in her family, May is also the only girl her own age for miles around.  May has added responsibilities because a new baby is on the way and her birthday wish is that it will be a girl.
    Besides her parents and brothers, May has an extended family:  a storytelling sea captain uncle and his wife who comes to help out before the birth the new baby;  her maiden Aunt Alice who is spunky in her own right and who and shares city life with May; a witch of a grandmother, ironically named Patience; and numerous neighbors.  Although this seems like a lot of characters to keep track of, Holm provides a sense of who they are.
    Although there have been many books written about pioneer girls, this book has  a Finnish flavor as Holm smoothly interjects Finnish food, customs like the sauna, and Finnish first and last names into the story.  The vintage photos that begin each chapter add to the sense of time and place.  Readers will be curious to know whether or not they are family photos or just period ones.
Fourth grade teachers of Michigan history can appropriate this book the same way they did Louise Erdrich's THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE.  (Hyperion, 1999) about an Ojibwa girl who lives along Lake Superior in Wisconsin.  This is an excellent example of historical fiction that can be read aloud to students or read by students in grades 3-8.  Holm's first novel should be owned by every Upper Peninsula  library and will make an excellent gift recommendation.     Mary Ann Paulin, Director, Superiorland Preview Center
    32 years of experience as a school library media specialist
    *This book won a 2000 Newbery Honor book citation.

Karim, Roberta. KINDLE ME A RIDDLE: A PIONEER STORY.
    Illus. by Bethanne Andersen. New York: Greenwillow, 1999.  40p.
    0-688-16203-7; hb., $16.00    0-688-1604-5; lib.bdg., $15.93    98-1955
    K-Gr.5+     E        PAULIN"S PICKS

    This clever story is told in the first person by a pioneer girl whose father asks her a riddle to cheer her up after she lets the fire die out.  The riddle is "What is a wagon road before it's a wagon road?"  The answer" is "It was a buffalo trail, long and deep."  This is the beginning of many riddles that help explain pioneer life.  Other riddles are even more poetic like the doll made from "Corn husks dancing in the cool moonlight."  Others include:  log cabin; johnny cakes; cider; broom; fireplace; pie; winter cloak; chalk; ice blocks; sampler; candle; mattresses; and pillow.  At the end of the book there are 18 pictures and explanations about items mentioned in the book or the riddle themes like chalk and slates, beeswax candles, and making cloth.   Information important to understanding how pioneer families lived is useful for pioneer studies and the riddles help to make the book interactive.  This book will be used by primary, intermediate, and even middle school students for pleasure or information.  School and public libraries need this title.  Highly Recommended.
    Mary Ann Paulin, Director, Superiorland Preview Center
    32 years of experience as a school library media specialist

 Kay, Verla.  THE IRON HORSE.  Illus. by Michael McCurdy.  New York:
    Putnam, 1999.  32Pp.  0-399-231196; hb.,  $15.99     98-29898    PreS-Gr.4     E
    PAULIN'S PICKS

    Summarizing the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in a rhyming picture book of 32 pages is a daunting task.  The scratchboard illustrations not only complement but extend the rhyme which does an admirable job of explaining this piece of American history while keeping the rhyme scheme.  Kay's book can be read aloud to students of any age who are studying the Transcontinental Railroad.  An Author's Note and a map add more information.  Pages of the book could be divided among students who could research further information on the topic. This is an important purchase for school and public libraries for the historical value or just for the pleasure of reading an exemplary picture book.
    Mary Ann Paulin, Director, Superiorland Preview Center
    32 years of experience as a school library media specialist

Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie.  A DOCTOR LIKE PAPA.  Illus by James Bernardin.
    New York:  HarperCollins, 2002.  73P.  0-06-029319-5; hb., $14.95 
    0-06-029320-9; lib.bdg.,  $14.89    2001-039817    Gr. 2-5     FIC

    Eleven-year-old Margaret finally gets permission from her mother to accompany her father on his doctoring rounds.  The year is 1918 when women were not doctors, when Margaret’s young uncle comes home from World War a changed man, and during an influenza epidemic.  Margaret’s experiences are realistic and intriguing but gruesome.  The setting is Vermont apple country.   This chapter book moves at a fast pace and provides a view of those times.
    Mary Ann Paulin; Director, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI
    32 years of experience as a school library/media specialist

Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie.  LUMBER CAMP LIBRARY.  Illus by James Bernardin.
    New York: HarperCollins, 2002.  87p.  0-06-029321-7; hb., $14.995
    2001-039684    Gr. 2-5      FIC

    Eight-year-old Ruby loves her father, a lumberman, and when he dies she is devastated.  They sell their piano and move to town where she continues going to school until she has to give it up to help her family.  When she tries to trade raspberry pies for books, she gets a delightful surprise.  Her goal of becoming a teacher also has unexpected results.  Although this book is set in Vermont in 1912, it could have been set during lumbering days in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Wisconsin, Minnesota,  Washington, or Oregon.  The story is fast paced, the characters are well drawn, and the vocabulary is easy to read but not simplistic.  This historical fiction story, in the tradition of the Little House books, is an excellent chapter book for primary school readers or  intermediate remedial readers.
    Mary Ann Paulin; Director, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI
    32 years of experience as a school library/media specialist

Love, D. Anne.  I REMEMBER THE ALAMO.  New York: Holiday, 1999.
    156p. 0-8234-1426-4; hb., $15.95.    98-43331     Gr.4-7          FIC

     Eleven-year-old Jessie's father is not a practical man and believes that the next scheme he tries will succeed and satisfy him.  One day he meets  two men who tell him about land in Texas and he uproots his family the next day and they are "Gone to Texas."   The promised land is swampy and the baby dies and the family goes to San Antonio instead.  There Jessie meets a Mexican girl, Angelina, but Jessie's father does not approve of the friendship.   When her father and older brother Yancy take off to fight with the Texians, the rest of the family goes to the Alamo.  Readers who have read SUZANNA OF THE ALAMO: A TRUE STORY by Jakes  (Harcourt, 1986) will  know what is coming when they meet Suzanna and her mother.  Add this to bibliographies of intermediate and middle school books to help students understand American History.
    Mary Ann Paulin; Director, Superiorland Preview Center
    32 years of experience as a school library/media specialist

Love, D. Anne.  A YEAR WITHOUT RAIN.  New York: Holiday, 2000.
    118p. 0-8234-1488-4; hb., $15.95.    99-35825   Gr.  3-7     FIC

     Twelve-year-old Rachel and her little brother, John Wesley lost their mother several years before the story begins. The live on the prairie in the Dakotas in the mid 1890s during a time when  fire and drought have caused their neighbors to leave.  When the drought becomes too severe, Rachel and John Wesley go alone by train to Savannah to stay with their mother's sister, a suffragette.  There the children miss their father and their dog but they learn more about their mother from letters she wrote their father when they were courting and letters their mother wrote to her sister from Dakota Territory.  When their father comes to get them he has a surprise that does not please  Rachel.   She loved Miss Burke as a teacher but does not want her for a mother.  Rachel plays tricks on Miss Burke but her mother-to-be is a paragon of virtue who forgives Rachel's tricks even though she almost chops off her hand.  The wedding goes on and Rachel realizes that there is room in her family for two women in her father's life.  When the children leave during the drought, it is reminiscent ofwhen Sarah took her step children to her former home on the east coast during a drought in  McLachlan's SKYLARK (1995), sequel to her Newbery winning book SARAH PLAIN AND TALL (1987) both Harper and Harper Trophy paperback.
    Mary Ann Paulin; Director, Superiorland Preview Center
    32 years of experience as a school library/media specialist

 McGill, Alice.  MOLLY BANNAKY.  Illus. by Chris K. Soentpiet.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
    1999.  32p.    0-395-72287-X; hb., $16.00.  96-3000    Gr. 1-7+         E   or    FIC  
    PAULIN'S PICKS

     Double-page watercolor illustrations are an important part of the educational and aesthetic value of this oversized fiction book about an English dairy maid who was taken to court and deported to the new world for stealing milk when her cow tipped over a milk pail in 1683.  At the age of seventeen, Molly Walsh became indentured to a tobacco planter in Maryland.  After seven years, she was given an ox, plow, two hoes, tobacco and corn seed, clothing, and a gun so she left to stake a claim in the wilderness.  Molly bought an African slave named Bannaky to help her and eventually she married him even though it was against colonial law.  The couple had four daughters and her grandson was Benjamin Banneker.   The historical note on the last page tells about life in 17th century England, Benjamin's mother who was also married to a free African slave, and a paragraph about Benjamin Banneker's accomplishments.  This handsome and informative book is a first purchase for intermediate and middle schools and public libraries for understanding U. S. history.  Outstanding!
    Mary Ann Paulin; Director, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI
    32 years as a school library media specialist

 Pinkney, Andrea Davis.  SILENT THUNDER: A CIVIL WAR STORY.
    New York: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 1999.  218p.  0-7868-0439-4; hb., $15.99
    0-7868-2388-7; lib.bdg., $15.89  98-32071     Gr. 4-9        FIC

     Each chapter is told in the first person by a brother and sister who are slaves on the Parnell Plantation in Hobbs Hollow, Virginia.  The entries are dated from August 21, 1863 to January 1, 1863, the date of the Emancipation Proclamation which features in the plot of the story.  The book begins on Summer's eleventh birthday when her owner, Master Gideon, asks to see her for his annual inspection.  The inspection foreshadows a plot development.   Summer is curious about her parentage and is curious about reading.  Rosco, Summer's thirteen-year-old brother, is consumed with learning to read and teaches Summer to read.  Rosco and his mother are worried that Summer cannot keep this dangerous secret. A third  character is the children's mother who organizes the Parnell household for Missy Claire, saves her mistress's invalid son by helping him breathe, and nurses her mistress's husband when he has a stroke.
     The silent thunder, taken from the title, symbolizes the passions of the four main characters.  Another slave, Clem, wanted to marry a slave on a neighboring plantation but Master Panell, refused to buy her.  When Clem and Marietta ran away together, they were caught and Clem was whipped and Marietta was sold.  Clem's passion is to join the Union army.
 Except for a few bothersome features (the dreams in italics or Doc's toast at the Christmas party to the equality of people, even servants, while he is hiding his role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad), this book will be a good addition to civil war studies for intermediate and middle school students.
    Mary Ann Paulin; Director, Superiorland Preview Center
    32 years of experience as a school library/media specialist
 

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