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

Premise:

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…

Lori

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Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

caddie-woodlawn

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I read Caddie Woodlawn years ago, as a child.  I love frontier adventures which feature female heroines.  The fact that this story takes place in the area I grew up in makes it that much more interesting to me.  This is a 1936 Newbery Medal winner, too!

Premise:

The story is about the life of Caddie Woodlawn and her family in the early Wisconsin frontier during the Civil War era.  Her parents came to the Wisconsin wilderness from Boston to make a new life for themselves, settling in the area of Downsville.  The story is rather like a memoir–sharing specific stories from Caddie’s life which she shared with her family.  It was her granddaughter, Carol Ryrie Brink, who put the stories into book form.

My thoughts:

The most enthralling thing about this book, for me personally, is that it took place in the area where I grew up.  It’s fun to imagine Caddie and her brothers traipsing through the wilderness (which is now quite developed land).  Have we walked along the same stretch of river?  Where exactly was her family’s farm?

Caddie is such a fun tomboyish character.  Her father is given charge of her upbringing, in the hopes that more vigorous activities (a.k.a. hanging out with her brothers), will help keep her healthy.  (One of her older sisters became weak and died when she was coddled by their mother in the rough frontier land.)  Caddie and her brothers engage in all sorts of shenanigans, and eventually Caddie matures and realizes that growing up isn’t quite the awful thing that she always thought it would be.

The one criticism I have for the book is its outdated language pertaining to Native Americans.  For its time, this book is fairly forward-thinking, but it will still be offensive to today’s readers.  There are a few instances where the terms “redskins,” “savages,” and “half-breeds” are used.  I recommended the book to my son, but prefaced it with a discussion on terms referring to and attitudes towards Native Americans at that period in history.

There are a couple of circumstances relating to the Native American characters in the story which help teach kids a lesson in accepting others.  Caddie’s friendship with Indian John, and her act of love for the Hankinson kids are two of my favorite scenes from the entire book.  You’ll see why when you read them.  Sometimes it takes a child to know what is right and to follow through, even when the adults around them would rather cling to suspicion and prejudice.

I recommend this book to older elementary-age children, up to teens.  It’s a fun look into U.S. history which gives kids a good view into what everyday life may have looked like for white settlers.

Possible Objections:

  • Some offensive/outdated racial language referring to Native Americans (“savages,” “redskins”)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori