5 out of 5 stars
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Scout of the Oregon Trail is a creative historical fiction novel set in 1852. As the Churchill family of five is preparing to head out on a 150-day journey from Missouri to Oregon, the three children rescue a dog, name it Scout, and the dog narrates the story of the family's travels. Todd Crickmer's decision to tell the story from the dog's point-of-view creates a unique perspective that makes it perfect for the intended, middle school audience.
The author's extensive research and his collaboration with various historical societies ensure the accuracy of the timeline and the geographical settings. Special sensitivity was given when describing the interactions with the Native Americans. The 200 pages are enhanced with pen and ink drawings. Each of the 20 chapters begins with one of the drawings. The illustrations are both subtle and meaningful. Every chapter also contains a heading with details of a particular leg of the journey, including the miles traveled and the dates of that trip.
Scout, the narrator of the tale, is never described physically, which allows readers to use their imaginations. When the hardship of each adventure is described, Scout usually performs some heroic deed, and the chapter ends with someone patting the dog and saying, "Good dog, good dog." This lends anticipation to the narrative. Scout's story also has a surprising outcome at the end of the book.
In addition to being historical fiction, the book also fits into the coming-of-age genre. Josh, the oldest of the three children, is 15 years old when the saga begins. He learns many lessons in honesty, perseverance, and love while traveling with the wagon train across the country. The author has alluded to a possible sequel with Josh as the protagonist.
This book would be perfect for a family to read together every night. Discussion questions for each chapter appear at the end of the book. Children will learn what it was like to travel at 3 miles per hour, survive snake bites, and avoid a buffalo stampede.
There are no grammatical errors or negative aspects in this book. The simple sentence structures and vocabulary choices are appropriate for children from ages 10 to 14. The dialogue is realistic and engaging. My rating is five out of five. I envision this being used in a fifth-grade history class. While the class reads the book together, there will be many opportunities for research projects sparked by the events in the book. I learned more from Scout about this American time period than I did from any of my boring history teachers.
Scout of the Oregon Trail
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