cover image Rachel's Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl

Rachel's Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl

Marissa Moss. Harcourt Children's Books, $15 (56pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201806-1

Moss extends the format she perfected in Amelia's Notebook and Amelia Writes Again to cover historical fiction in this solidly researched and wholly captivating illustrated diary ""by"" a 10-year-old girl who travels with her family along the Oregon Trail in 1850. The excitements and hardships of the seven-month journey spring vividly to life, whether Rachel is crossing the eerie, skeleton-strewn Nevada desert by moonlight, trading her long red braids for an Indian pony, eating flour soup when provisions get low, or awakening one morning to greet a new baby sister. Character sketches--of the shiftless Mr. Bridger; the oh-so-perfect Prudence Elias, bane of tomboy Rachel's days; sourpuss Mr. Henry Sunshine, whose wife, Louisa, providentially drops her dentures during a tense encounter with the Pawnee, frightening them away--are a sheer delight, adding depth, texture and, of course, humor. The language is equally colorful. One of the smaller children in Rachel's wagon party, for example, is ""no bigger than a bar of soap after a week's wash."" Moss shoehorns in an amazing amount of information, giving readers an excellent understanding of life on the trail. Lined sepia-toned pages give the book the look of an antique diary; and, in the style of the Amelia books, hand-lettered text and cleverly captioned thumbnail illustrations with a childlike sensibility add to the authentic feel. This engrossing glimpse of the westward movement is as good a choice for pleasure reading as it is a valuable classroom resource. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)