Author Roman and illustrator Tabor (If You Were Me and Lived In…the Middle Ages, 2016, etc.) return to their history series with this illustrated primer on the Oregon Trail during pioneer days.
Opening with a comparison shot of modern Willamette Valley and that same place in 1843, with a young adult in modern clothes in the same posture as a pioneer boy on the next page, this book launches into what life was like for one family on the Oregon Trail. Focusing on the “you” of this book, a 12-year-old boy named either Clarence or Ethan, the story follows the family from Ohio on “The Great Migration of 1843.” Encouraged by an uncle who previously headed to California to find gold, the clan packs up a Conestoga wagon and joins thousands of people in Independence, Missouri, to form a wagon train for the 2,000-mile journey. Kids who have played “Oregon Trail” will find this section quite familiar, down to the supplies packed by the boy’s mother (which are among the provisions players choose in that classic game). The five-month journey involves some politics (the adults elect a leader and a council that settles arguments), some chores (including collecting buffalo chips; the sister’s downtrodden expression in the illustration is priceless), and many dangers, including illnesses like cholera and the treacherous crossing of the Columbia River. When the family members arrive, they are granted free land as long as they farm it, several years in advance of the Homestead Act of 1862. In fact, Oregon was not clearly under U.S. sovereignty until 1846, so some of the details throughout the cheekily illustrated book seem slightly fudged for the sake of the narrative. In addition, some errors appear in the text (for example, Ohio winds up on the East Coast). Roman is at her strongest when discussing typical clothing of the era and place and farm work in the 19th century. She tackles the issues of settlers displacing Native Americans with sensitivity, though she misses the mark a bit when glibly explaining how many had died from disease.
Though offering less polished prose than in previous series volumes, this installment with its approachable illustrations serves as a reasonable introduction to westward expansion.