cover image Wagon Train 911

Wagon Train 911

Jamie Gilson. HarperCollins Publishers, $15 (191pp) ISBN 978-0-688-14550-7

For a fifth-grade class project about the Oregon Trail, awkward Dinah with the size-11 feet has to ""marry"" the shortest, strangest boy in the class, Orin. Not only that, they have to pretend he's a doctor and she's his pregnant wife, riding a wagon train west with a bunch of bossy companions (actually their annoying classmates). The plot-within-a-plot mostly works well in the deft hands of Gilson (Hobie Hanson, Greatest Hero of the Mall), whose gift for snappy dialogue will have kids laughing. And beneath the hilarity is the subtle lesson that being a misfit as a kid doesn't condemn a person to misfit status forever: Orin and Dinah see glimmers of the dynamic grown-ups they might be someday when they're no longer the goofy oddballs in Mr. Marconi's class. Gilson misses the mark once in a while--a story line about Dinah accidentally dyeing her hair green is none too fresh and, in a plot device that features journal entries students write in their pioneer characters' voices, the point of view can become disconcertingly adult. Still, the slips in no way hobble this buoyant story, which reaches its destination with all wheels intact. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)