Levitin (Evil Encounter, p. 533, etc.) finds an outlandish premise for her story of one family's stagecoach trip to California in the late 1800s, a story that also happily found Smith's winsome illustrations. Incidents in the book are based on letters and diaries of travelers (and in the fictional frame, a lot of information about stagecoaches is amicably bestowed upon readers), but there was probably never a trip like this one. When Pa sends a letter saying, ""Come to California, my dears. I am lonely without you,"" Mama and her five children pack, with Mama's sack of needfuls growing fatter by the minute. Rounding out the group for the 21-day trip are a banker, a teacher, and Cowboy Charlie. Baby Betsy throws up on the banker, then gets the hiccups. Mama quiets them all with sugar lumps from her sack. For lunch it's the stage driver's beans and Mama's prunes. Is everybody having fun yet? When this credibility-straining journey's over, readers may ask what Pa's doing for a living now since he was a bust as a miner, or why Mama puts up so gleefully with his sexist comments when they meet. Go West? Maybe not by stagecoach.