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This thin volume, based on a true story, is powerful and intense.   Park tells the true story of two children from Sudan.  Salva is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.  He flees his hometown in 1985 and begins a journey that will last over 11 years and take him ultimately to America.  Nya lives in modern Sudan.  Her days are filled with one task–walking to get water.  She spends 8 hours a day walking, making 2 round trips each day to fill up her family’s water jugs.  Alternating between Salva’s and Nya’s stories, Park tells how hope came to one Sudanese village through the perseverance and courage of one young boy and the many who helped him on his journey.

Homeland is told entirely through letters.  Susanna, a Southerner, and Cora, an islander from Maine, meet briefly in Tennessee before the start of the Civil War.  They strike up a correspondence that spans the duration of the war.

It took me a 20 pages or so to get into the book and get some characters sorted out.  But once I got going, I couldn’t put the book down.  It’s one of those books that just keeps getting better and better as you go on, and then the ending is so perfect, you wouldn’t change a thing.

Through Susanna and Cora’s letters, Hambly dives into some huge issues: the effects of the war on women; the competing loyalties that people felt as they were torn between love of homeland, their state, the Union, family and their family’s land and livelihood; the choices, or lack of choices, that women had to support themselves and their families; the power of books to teach and comfort; the power of writing to bring clarification and healing during times of pain; the power of friendship to sustain through the darkest times.

Alice’s Tulips by Sandra Dallas

23rd September 2009

Another outstanding book by Dallas, told entirely through letters that Alice, a young farmwife in Iowa, writes to her sister.  Alice’s husband joined the Union army, and Alice is left to run the family farm, with the help of her disapproving mother-in-law.  Alice is young, irresponsible and unaware of the brutality of war.  When Alice is accused of murder and the whole town seems to turn against her, Alice learns who and what is truly important.

Aiden and Maddy are starving to death on their Kansas farm when Jefferson J. Jackson finds them.  Jackson agrees to transport the siblings to Washington.  In return, Aiden will pay off the debt once they reach Washington, by working as a lumberjack.  In the middle of their trip, Aiden befriends some Nez Perce Indians who save his life.  When the Nez Perce find Aidan again in Washington, and ask for his help in obtaining the precious smallpox vaccine to bring back to their people, Aidan must decide if he will risk his life to help.

This was an excellent book and possibly one of my favorite pioneer books of all times.  From the opening pages, I was hooked on Aidan and Maddy’s story.  And although most Oregon Trail fiction ends with the first glimpses of the Williamette Valley, McKernan continues her story beyond the Oregon Trail.  The Devil’s Paintbox is rich with historical details, ranging from the Civil War, to drought in the midwest, the development of the smallpox vaccine, relations between the Native Americans and the pioneers, lumberjacking and much more.  I learned a lot while enjoying this incredible story.

Juliet’s Moon by Ann Rinaldi

14th October 2008

Juliet's Moon (Great Episodes)A somewhat disappointing Civil War novel.  I kept waiting for the book to get going, but it kind of just poked along to the end.