Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

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Title: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #3 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series


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.

My thoughts:

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.  I will warn you, however, that this book is not for the faint of heart!

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.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)
  • Cannibalism

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…



Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff - WM

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The book Stiff is a fascinating compilation of author Mary Roach’s research on the human cadaver.  This isn’t just your average list of facts and figures, but an in-depth exploration about the many different situations a cadaver can find itself in once its animating essence has flown away.  So, let’s talk about the second-to-last book in my Friends & Family Top Picks Reading Challenge.

We shall begin with the topics covered in this book.  They are extremely wide-ranging and I really had no idea that there were so many things that could happen to a person’s body after they died.  There are sections about plastic surgery, dissection, early anatomists and body snatching, the study of human decay, embalming, car impact studies, army research, the shroud of Turin, organ harvesting, the use of cadavers for medicinal purposes, cannibalism, composting cadavers, and plastinated cadavers.

Firstly, I am a bit squeamish about things like human cadavers.  Secondly, I’m even more squeamish when somebody starts talking about cutting them open, etc.  With that being said, I was able to make it through the entire book.  Mary Roach has a wonderful gift for making this subject matter palatable by injecting just the right amount of humor when things get too uncomfortable.

As for the information she shared about cadavers, it was absolutely fascinating.  Mary did a very thorough job of researching the subject and sharing it with readers in a cohesive, logical and entertaining manner.  I know much more about cadavers than I ever thought I would care to know, but I feel better for knowing it.  As strange as that may sound, this book made me realize how important it is to understand the end of our lives, just as we would seek to understand any stage between conception and death.

I’d also like to share a couple of my favorite quotes from the book which highlight Mary’s style of writing:

“And ever since, the U.S. Army has gone confidently into battle, knowing that when cows attack, their men will be ready.” (p. 134)

“He is telling me about the pine beetle epidemic in the area.  I point to a stand of dead conifers in the woods a quarter mile back behind the target.  ‘Like over there?’  Scottie says no.  He says they died of bullet wounds, something I never knew pine trees could do.” (p.140-141)

I highly recommend this book to adult readers who are not overly offended (or disgusted) by a frank discussion about the human body after death.  You will be utterly fascinated by this book.

If you’ve already read Stiff, please let me know what you thought of it!

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time,