written by George Hallowell and Joan Holub
illustrated by Lynne Avril
2011 (Albert Whitman and Company)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
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Two young girls are getting ready to move with their families from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City. Jenny Johnson and her family are moving by wagon in 1846. Katie Miller and her family are traveling by car in the 21st century. Both families are seeking a new life in Oregon. As the story progresses, we see both families making preparations for the move. Panels allow the reader to compare the similarities and differences between the two centuries. In 2011, you might travel in an hour what it would take the wagons of 1846 to cross in five days. For the move, both families have to leave behind treasured things including friends and pets. For each day of Katie Miller's car trip, we read about a month in the travels of the Johnson family. Along the way, we learn new information about life on the Oregon Trail and remember highway trips of our own.
Wagons Ho! is an inventive tale of the Old and New West that beats the pants off a stuffy book I read months ago on the same subject. Yes, it is historical fiction, but it is easy to separate the fictional elements from the nonfiction and learn quite a bit about families that migrated to Oregon in the 19th century. The bonus with this book are the connections students will make through the character of Katie Miller. We've all been on long car trips and can contrast that with the five month wagon trip of the Johnson family. Wagons Ho! would be a great resource for using graphic organizers in teaching history. Lynne Avril's delightful watercolor illustrations help make this a trip that you will want to take with young readers.