Tony Johnston, , illus. by Ted Lewin. . Putnam, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22659-5

When the Western frontier beckons, a New England man gathers his wife and three children for a demanding journey by covered wagon. Johnston's (That Summer, reviewed Mar. 18) straightforward narrative gives readers a generous sampling of the emotions, sights and sounds of such a trip—down to the smallest sensory details. "The ox bells clanked, tonk-tonk, tink-tink. The water sloshed in the barrels. The wagon wheels creaked. Always they creaked." Through the varied perspectives of Lewin's (Peppe the Lamplighter) realistic, light-filled watercolors, readers glimpse the underside of the wagon and meet, head on, a large herd of buffalo as it stretches across two spreads. A shadowy midnight blue painting reveals the sources of unknown sounds that spark fear in the travelers, including images of a stately Native American figure and, completely filling the facing page, a howling coyote with fangs aglow in the moonlight. Johnston's prose pulls no punches. Livestock die or are swept away by rain-swollen rivers. People die, too. "Every day they saw graves. And graves. And graves." But all is not bleak. Native Americans come to the family's rescue with much-needed food and, in the titular scene, the grandeur of a mountain sunset "spilling its fire everywhere" inspires the family to settle there. Readers are rewarded with a full-bleed painting of the purple peaks bathed in rich salmon light. The attention to detail in both word and picture provides youngsters with a taste of the tribulations and triumphs of the trail. Ages 5-up. (June)