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EMMA’S RIVER by Alison Hart


by Alison Hart and illustrated by Paul Bachem by Ed Emberley & illustrated by Ed Emberley

Age Range: 7 - 10

Pub Date: April 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56145-524-9
Publisher: Peachtree

Ten-year-old Emma travels up the Mississippi on the steamboat Sally May in 1852, defending her pony against ruffians, throwing improbable temper tantrums and learning about social injustice. The big river and the boat form an interesting background, but the story doesn’t hold water. Emma travels with her about-to-give-birth mother (who transfers from a posh private home to the boat within hours of delivery) and a doctor assigned to her care. They’re meeting Emma’s father, but why he doesn’t travel with them and why they are joining him at the end of Mama’s pregnancy is never explained. The doctor spends his time gambling in the men’s lounge, without, as he promised, tending to either Emma or her pony (supposedly no one but Emma cares if the animal is given food or water during the four-day trip). The pony becomes a plot device—an excuse for Emma to venture onto the forbidden deck—and a reason to put an attractive animal on the book cover. Worst of all, Emma comes across as inconsistent—one moment she’s holding her breath until she gets her way, the next she’s volunteering to help impoverished accident victims—and ultimately unlikable. Exclamation points abound! As she has shown in Shadow Horse (1999) and others, Hart can do better. (Historical fiction. 7-10)