cover image The Way West: Journal of a Pioneer Woman

The Way West: Journal of a Pioneer Woman

Lillian Schlissel, Amelia Stewart Knight. Simon & Schuster, $16 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-671-72375-0

Adapted from the 1853 journal of her family's trip from Iowa to Oregon, Knight's account makes an unusual text for a picture book. The weather, the number of wagons around them, and making camp or crossing rivers form the authentic but eventually monotonous concerns of the ``overlanders.'' Touches of dry humor appear, and dramatic incidents occur, as when a child is left behind. But McCurdy ( The Beasts of Bethlehem ) creates most of the excitement with his colored scratchboard illustrations, which recall 19th-century woodcuts. Strongly rendered pioneer faces glow with optimism and steadfastness in warm domestic scenes of the family sleeping in their wagon, or in climactic moments like the floating of wagon-beds across a river. An introduction by the adapter orients the reader, but also puts a 20th-century spin on Knight's perceptions: to say that ``Indians helped'' is to ignore the Knights' understanding of most of the encounters. At journey's end, the family gets some land; the reader will keep memories of the art but may leave the problematic text by the side of the trail. Ages 7-10. (Oct.)