When many of us parents hear the words “Oregon Trail” (especially those of us who were in elementary school in the mid to late 80s), we immediately think of the text-and-minimal-graphics computer game we played on the Apple IIe at school. Remember buying your supplies, heading out on the trail, trying to shoot animals, and hoping no one would die? I’m not sure if I ever made it to Oregon in that game. I think I typically either killed off my characters, got bored or ran out of time before I could “win” by making it to the end of the trail.
Since I somehow missed out on having any pre-Civil War American History in school, my knowledge of the Oregon Trail pretty much started and ended with that game. 🙂 For our current US History unit (1815-1860, with a focus on the pioneers), I knew I wanted a book that would take us in depth on the subject. Miss M read a few non-fiction selections, and I chose Bound for Oregon by Jean Van Leeuwen as a bedtime read-aloud.
Bound for Oregon is a story told as a first-person narrative of Mary Ellen Todd, a 1o year old girl who makes the journey with her family along the Oregon Trail in 1852. Mary Ellen and her family make new friends and part with them again, deal with sickness, difficult river crossings, trouble with their animals, unfriendly Indians, bad weather and difficult terrain — all the typical challenges and hardships that most pioneering families face as they journeyed thousands of miles across the plains and mountains on their way to Oregon and California.
Miss M and I definitely found this book interesting, though I didn’t think it had some of the same compelling qualities that some of our other read-alouds have had this year. While hardship and even death (of friends the Todds meet along the way) are present in the story, there was little doubt in my mind of what was going to happen in the end. I just “knew” that this story would end up happily with the Todd family arriving in Oregon (without having to read the last chapter first or at least early…something I’ve actually done with some books!). In some ways I guess that makes this book more “educational” about what life was like on the trail for average pioneers who made the journey successfully.
As I read this book I would have guessed that Mary Ellen and her family were a neat conglomeration of average families on the Oregon Trail created for this book. So I was a bit surprised to learn in reading the author’s note at the end of the book that Bound for Oregon is based on a true story — recollections that Mary Ellen shared with her children and grandchildren that were eventually written down and preserved.
In the end I would say that Bound for Oregon fit a nice spot in our historical fiction read-aloud list for the year, but it’s not one that I would say is a must-read.