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I’ve really enjoyed the Nathan Hale books which I’ve read so far, so I picked up Donner Dinner Party when I spotted it at the library. I will warn you, however, that this book is not for the faint of heart!
We follow James Reed and family as they journey West to California. Reed insists on taking a shortcut which he has read about in a book, which results in disastrous consequences. The traveling party experiences death, illness, murder, the loss of oxen and cattle, and finally being stuck on top of a mountain in the middle of winter. What they resort to in their efforts to survive are quite shocking.
Just like the other Nathan Hale books, this one is an engaging way to learn about history. Kids will love the playful supporting characters, quality illustrations, and interesting way that historical events are presented.
The story starts off well enough. The Reed family wants to go out West to seek their fortune and they join with others to form a wagon train. James Reed convinces others to follow Hastings cutoff, which he read about in a book (written by a lawyer, not a frontiersman). Despite numerous warnings and indications that it is an unwise course of action, Reed persists, believing himself to be in the right. That decision leads to horrific consequences.
I’ll give away the shocking bit here, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading. When the Donner party find themselves stranded for the winter with very few supplies, they eventually have to resort to cannibalism to stay alive. Thankfully, they don’t show any icky bits in the illustrations. I still get the creeps thinking about it. Reading this story makes you wonder what you would do if you were in their shoes. It’s easy to say, “I would never do that.” But then again, if you were starving, your thinking would probably be a bit skewed.
I’d say use your discretion in allowing your child to read this book. Some will have no problem reading about cannibalism, while for others it would be traumatizing. My 10- and 12-year-old boys read it and were fine, but my 8-year-old girl would probably hate it.
I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium. This particular book is best suited to mature elementary-age children up to teens, or even adults.
- Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars
Until next time…