cover image Nine for California

Nine for California

Sonia Levitin. Scholastic, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-531-09527-0

This lighthearted picture book puts a uniquely human face on the Gold Rush era, one with which any kid who's endured a long car trip will identify. Mama and her five kids, including narrator Amanda and Baby Betsy, leave Missouri to meet Pa in far-off ""Californ-y,"" where he's been working in the gold fields. They join persnickety Mr. Hooper and dainty Miss Camilla in a crowded stagecoach for the 21-day trip. The group groans as Mama insists on bringing a huge, bulging sack that makes the coach all the more cramped. But when her bag of tricks saves the passengers from Indians, a buffalo stampede, robbers and even boredom, everyone stops complaining. Levitin (The Man Who Kept His Heart in a Bucket) crafts a text balanced with humor, rambunctious read-aloud language and a bounty of factual information about westward travel in the mid-1800s. Smith's (Scaredy Dog) characteristically rowdy watercolors are often funny, but they also exude a sweetness and sensitivity to the difficult conditions. And like the text, the illustrations provide clear frontier detail and fun facts, too, such as the ""anatomy of a stagecoach"" that appears on the back jacket. A solid-gold nugget of a history lesson. Ages 4-9. (Sept.)