By: Marty Rhodes Figley
Illustrated by: Craig Orback
Publisher: Lerner Classroom
Publication Date: January 2011
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: April 2011
Tears began to surface in Clara’s face as Edwin threw a biscuit at her. She tried to make them soft and golden brown, but “baking in an open fire was hard.” Edwin’s twin, Seth, didn’t make things any easier as he too made fun of her. It was June of 1864 and they’d been on the Oregon Trail for almost two months now. Their older sister, Isis, was busy taking care of little Daniel and their mother would soon be having another child so it was eleven-year-old Clara’s job to do the cooking. The rain, which soon turned to hail that “was big as hen’s eggs,” began to pummel them and they all ran for cover as the storm picked up in intensity. No one would be able to make fun of her cooking that night as Clara had to serve up “crackers, beef jerky, and dried apples.” The whole Morgan family, including Pa, had taken shelter under a canvas tent “pitched beside the wagon.”
It was just like “a cozy picnic” under the canvas as they talked and smiled. “Did you see the Indians ride by our camp just before the storm started?” asked Seth. Pa said that they would probably be back to trade, but also said that if they respected them they would be respected in return. The next day, after her brothers brought her some “nice muddy water from the Platte River,” Clara’s face grew taut and stern as she had to face the chore of cooking again. Mrs. Bell approached and told her to come by later saying, “I’ll show you a trick or two.” The lessons learned were good ones, but when her golden brown biscuits were ready an Indian approached, claiming he was hungry. Pa nodded and Clara had to give up her biscuits. Would they be able to make it through Indian Territory safely before they got to Fort Laramie? Would more Indians arrive to take their food?
The fictional Clara’s experiences are based on tales from those who actually traveled the Trail through Indian Territory. The story flows quite smoothly and is very interesting. It is set up in an appealing picture book format, but the reader can glean a lot of historical information throughout the text. For example, we read that “For over twenty years, pioneers following their dreams had traveled to Oregon on the Oregon Trail.” Mrs. Bell’s tips on how to make biscuits in a Dutch oven provided a fascinating glimpse into the ingenious way people adapted to hardships as they traveled.
The illustrations, which were created using real children as models, were realistic and meshed perfectly with the tale. This is a “Reader’s Theater” book with full instructions on how to set up a performance. In the author’s note there is more information about the part children played as people crossed the country on the Oregon Trail. In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, and several recommended book and website resources to explore. Additional teaching resources, including printable scripts, sound effects, and a Reader's Theater teacher's guide are available on the publisher's website.
Quill says: This is a fascinating story of young Clara Morgan and her family’s experiences traveling on the Oregon Trail.