Nonfiction Monday: How to Get Rich on the Oregon Trail by Tod Olson
The rise of the journal format has been swift and, by my estimation, successful. Taking a story and telling it in the form of a hand-written account makes sense for two reasons:
1. It takes said story into the first person, adding an immediacy that draws readers in.
2. Journals provide an opportunity to add richness to the text through illustrations, photographs, and other bits of non-text miscellanea.
The reasons above also explain why the journal format is a perfect fit for nonfiction. Following the wagon-wheel ruts of 2008’s How to Get Rich in the California Gold Rush, How to Get Rich on the Oregon Trail takes an historical event and gives it the journal treatment. If your nonfiction section is in need of an Oregon Trail update (and, really, is there one that isn’t?), this is a title you will want to seek out.
While the facts are accurate, the characters are fictional. In April of 1852 the young William Reed sets out with his family for the land and opportunity of the West. William, an aspiring writer, arranges to send his accounts of the trip back home to be published in the newspaper. Plans are set, finances are in order, supplies are acquired. The journey begins and the hardships the Reed family has heard about become reality. Scarce food and water, disease, and treacherous terrain combine to make the going tough. It isn’t long before their financial situation is looking grim. When their oxen are stolen, William and his older brother create the “Reed Brothers Ferry” and quickly learn that there is money to be made on the trail if you’ve got the will to seek it out. Four months after beginning, William and his family arrive in Portland, eager to settle in and begin life anew.
As laid out in the table of contents, each two-page spread is dedicated to a stop on the journey. These chunks prove quite manageable and will work well for young readers.
The way I see it, you can go two ways with this formatÂ – you can keep things ultra authentic, or you can make it modern. Oregon Trail goes the latter route. Presented as a current-day publication of an original journal, the overall look does not smack of 1852. While original photographs and maps are in the mix, the illustrations and layout provide an updated feel.
Engaging in format and boasting enough detail to give a sense of the journey that so many families made, How to Get Rich on the Oregon Trail should satisfy young history buffs and student fact finders alike.
Check out the Nonfiction Monday roundup at the outstanding Bookends blog.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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