Readers get a peek into the life of the youngest rider for the Pony Express in this fictionalized version of his first journey.
“Bronco” Charlie Miller is already a cowboy by the time he is age 8 in the mid-1800s. At 11, he becomes the youngest rider for the Pony Express. Soon, he and his father meet a riderless Pony Express horse entering the station. Believing that the letters must be delivered, Charlie’s father puts the boy on a horse to take the mail from Sacramento to the next drop. Charlie, entrusted with the mail bag (the text uses the Spanish word mochila throughout), heads the 50 miles to Placerville as fast as he can ride. The route is dangerous, and Charlie survives a downpour and an active imagination after nightfall before arriving in Placerville at dawn. While some young readers will likely assume the story is entirely fictional due to Charlie’s first-person narration, others should detect the facts Parsons (Megumi’s First Trip to Kyoto, 2016) and illustrator Favereau (Megumi’s First Trip to Kyoto, 2016, etc.) embed in the tale, such as the poster advertising positions for “skinny, wiry fellows...willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” Charlie’s imagined perils unfortunately include “Indians with feathered headdresses and bows and arrows,” which, without further context, may propagate stereotypes. Favereau’s stylized, painterly images in earth tones make nice use of watercolor smudges to enhance the mythical feel of the legendary Pony Express.
Those interested in the Old West should find this tale a relatable jumping-off point for further research.