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One of the best new juvenile fiction books I’ve read in a long time.  The themes remind me a lot of Andrew Clements’ books.  Students who have enjoyed Clements’ many wonderful stories, will certainly enjoy Buyea’s first novel.

Mr. Terupt is a first year teacher at Snow Hill School.  His class of 5th graders is like any ordinary class.  There’s the Brain, the Troublemaker, the Gossip Queen, the kids with secrets and the kids who just want to have fun.  And while Mr. Terupt’s teaching methods may not be orthodox, they sure are exciting!  As tentative new friendships begin to form, and the class learns to trust Mr Terupt, a horrible accident happens which changes everything in an instant.  While this book would make a difficult read-aloud, as the story is told alternately by 7 different students, it would be a fantastic addition to any 5th grade classroom or literature circle.

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.

Sandra Dallas is my new favorite author.  I have loved every book of hers that I’ve read (3 to be exact).  She combines so much of what I love in a book to create the perfect novel: historical, romantic, slightly suspenseful, a bit of action, and lots of drama.  Once I start reading one of Dallas’ books, I just can’t put it down.

The Diary of Mattie Spenser tells the story of Mattie and her husband Luke as they travel from Iowa to build a home on the Colorado plains.  Although the physical hardships are difficult, Mattie struggles more to come to grips with the many tragedies she encounters on the frontier, and with her growing suspicions that her husband doesn’t love her.  Watching Mattie grow from a proper, timid young girl to a strong, capable woman was an absolute pleasure, and I loved the way Dallas chose to end Mattie’s story.

Absolutely wonderful!   Hennie Comfort drew me in with her stories from the first page.  Hennie has lived in the Colorado mining town of Middle Swan for most of her adult life.  As she prepares to move on, she has some unfinished business to attend to, in the form of a young girl to provide for, and an old secret to deal with.  Hennie prepares for the future by telling stories about the past.

One note to moms who read this book:  There was one particular heartbreaking story about a baby early on in the book that will be hard to read.  In fact, I skimmed the entire passage once I figured out what was going to happen.  So be prepared.