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On to Oregon by Honore Morrow

22nd September 2009

A fictionalized account of the Sager children’s journey on the Oregon Trail.  When their parents both die on the trail, John, the eldest, must assume the care of his 6 siblings, one just a newborn baby.  Determined both to keep his family together, and to reach Oregon, John grows from a sullen, irresponsible boy to a hardworking, determined young man as he works to care for his family and fulfill his father’s dream.

The story of the Sager children is an incredible one.  I’d love to learn more about the true story of these children.  One of the Sager children, Mathilda, wrote an account of their journey to Oregon and their subsequent involvement in the Whitman massacre.  The book can be read online.

The thing I enjoyed most about Morrow’s story was the gentle, all-knowing narrator tone which she adopted.  Parts of the book could be quite overwhelming to children–the death of parents, attacks, starvation, loneliness, etc.  Morrow’s gentle narration makes it seem as if the children weren’t quite so alone.

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.

I initially read this book from sheer curiosity.  Why would a couple choose to have 18 children, and how do they possibly survive each day?  I expected a crazy family, and instead, I was privileged to read a heartfelt testimony of how God has and is working in their family.

This book is a combination autobiography, Q&A, testimony, parenting tips and organizational hints.  The Duggars are strong Christians, with firm convictions in many areas.  However, they are quick to note that their convictions about birth control, style of dress, homeschooling, etc. are not for everyone.  Each family should discern for themselves how God is calling them to act in those areas.

I think the sections of the book I enjoyed the most were the ones about the Duggar’s parenting philosophy.  They have a well thought out approach to Christian parenting and discipline.  Michelle also shared some organizational tips, one of which I’ve already put into practice to organize our mass of toys.

The contrast between this book and Mommywood, which I read a few weeks ago, was striking.  Tori Spelling is trying desperately to provide a “normal” childhood for her children, by giving her kids physical things:  parties, trips, homes, friends, experiences.  The tone of her book overall is one of “It will never be enough.”  The Duggars don’t care about “normal.”  They are providing for their children’s hearts by teaching them what is important: worshiping God, following His will, and spending time with God and family.  The tone of their book is one of peace, trust and contentment.

This was a fantastic book.  Yolanda, her brother Andrew and her mother move from inner-city Chicago to Michigan.  There, Yolanda must re-establish her reputation as a tough, not to be messed with girl.  She also has to look out for her little brother Andrew, who communicates to the world with his harmonica.  But when Yolanda is busy with a new friend and Andrew is harmed, she know that it is up to her to make things right again.

There are some fantastic themes developed in this book: Friendship, family, loyalty, honesty, communication, love.  Through it all, Yolanda is convinced that her brother is a genius, and she will stop at nothing to prove it to the world.  This would be a great read-aloud in a fourth or fifth grade classroom.

When Saffy learns that she is adopted, she goes searching for the present that her Grandfather left for her.  It’s the one thing that can tie her to her mother.  A cute book.  Saffy and her siblings are humorous in a Pippi-Longstockings’ type of way.  McKay has written sequels about the other siblings that readers may enjoy as well.

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