A Book for Black-Eyed Susan
written by Judy Young; illustrated by Doris Ettlinger
2011 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library
Ten-year-old Cora's family is traveling on the Oregon Trail. Cora wakes one evening to see her Aunt Alma holding a baby and her father holding his head in his hands. Cora's mother has passed away during childbirth. The families have to move on, so Cora's mother is quickly buried and the new baby stays with Aunt Alma. When the wagons stop later on, Cora is given a chance to hold her baby sister who has black eyes and reminds her of a black-eyed Susan. These were her late mother's favorite flowers, so the name Susan sticks. Cora is inspired to begin a quilt book because she knows that Susan will not remember her mother. Using pieces of cloth from her mother's sewing box, Cora begins creating squares. Unfortunately for Cora, she and her sister will be soon parted. Cora and her father are continuing on the Oregon Trail, while Aunt Alma and Uncle Lee are going to take the California Trail. Cora's father feels she is too young to help raise a child so he sends Susan with Aunt Alma. With little time left, Cora quickly completes the book and sends it with Susan. In later years, Cora goes on to become a teacher who is in for a surprise at the end of the book.
Life on the Oregon Trail was difficult, and I applaud Judy Young for her approach to this book. In a picture book format, it would have been much easier to have a family that has some difficulty traversing the trail but making it to the end of the book intact. Young takes a risk by including the death of the mother and the separation of the sisters in the story, but I am more apt to use this book in my classroom since it gives students a better idea of the dangers involved in taking this trip and the frailty of life in this era. Make sure you read the author's note to students after finishing the book as it will provide useful background knowledge.