Captain Kate


Kate has always looked forward to her family's canal boat trips to Washington City, but this year everything has changed. Papa is dead and Mama has remarried, bringing a stepsister and stepbrother into their family. Kate's new stepfather is off fighting for the Union, and now Mama's expecting a new baby, making the trip they planned impossible.But Kate refuses to give up; her family depends on the income from the coal they haul down the C&O Canal. Kate knows every one of the 184 miles of the waterway between ...
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Kate has always looked forward to her family's canal boat trips to Washington City, but this year everything has changed. Papa is dead and Mama has remarried, bringing a stepsister and stepbrother into their family. Kate's new stepfather is off fighting for the Union, and now Mama's expecting a new baby, making the trip they planned impossible.But Kate refuses to give up; her family depends on the income from the coal they haul down the C&O Canal. Kate knows every one of the 184 miles of the waterway between Cumberland, Maryland and Georgetown by heart, as well as how to steer the boat and handle the mules that pull it.But Kate can't make the trip alone. As much as she resents her stepbrother, Seth, she needs his help; so with Kate at the tiller, and Seth walking beside the mules, the two set off, risking encounters with rebels, managing the canal's locks, and hiding the fact that they are two children traveling alone. But along the way, Kate discovers that working together not only means survival, it brings the understanding that will help her belong to a real family once again.

Determined to take her father's coal-carrying barge on the C & O Canal from Cumberland, Maryland, to Georgetown in D.C., twelve-year-old Kate learns hurtful truths about herself.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
...[A]ction-filled....[T]he risky trip [proves Kate's] courage and competence.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This detailed account of 19th-century travel down the C&O waterway offers a generous sprinkling of adventure starring a gutsy yet prideful heroine. Until her father's death, 12-year-old Kate had spent half of every year aboard the Mary Ann helping her parents haul coal from Cumberland to Washington, D.C., but now her mother, who has recently remarried, wants to rent out the family's boat for the season. Unable to bear the thought of strangers steering the Mary Ann (and possibly mistreating the guide mules), Kate convinces her reluctant stepbrother that they should make the trip on their own. Soon after they get underway, Kate fears she has bitten off more than she can chew by appointing herself captain, but she won't admit her error in judgment. Even after adding a second boy to the crew, she faces one crisis after another, including a dangerous run-in with Confederate soldiers. Reeder (Shades of Gray) balances external conflicts with Kate's mullings over her own shortcomings. Although the tedious journey may at times seem as unbearably long to readers as it does to Kate, Reeder is successful both in replicating the Civil War era and accurately tracing a canal boat's path. Students whose knowledge of waterways comes from textbook definitions will find a plethora of easy-to-digest information here. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)
Children's Literature - Melinda Medley Sprinkle
Twelve-year-old Kate has always enjoyed her family's boat trips down the C & O Canal from Cumberland, Maryland, to Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., but this year was different. The death of her father had brought a most painful hardship, and now, her mother had remarried bringing in two more children, a boy, Seth, and a girl, Julia. Her plans for the canal trip ruined, Kate feels like an outsider, but she refuses to give up. With her mother expecting a child and knowing they depend on the income from the coal they haul to D.C., Kate is determined to make the voyage. Along with her stepbrother, Seth, they sneak off down the canal. Although arrogant and somewhat resentful toward her stepbrother, Kate learns many valuable lessons, including the importance of respect and working as a team. Along the way, she grows up and learns that she must change. This heartfelt story is set during the mist of the Civil War and during a time when often all one had was family. Children will love this very real and emotional story that captures both the beauty of the landscape and the hardships of life when the C & O Canal was a busy workplace. Past and present facts about the C & O Canal are also provided.
Kirkus Reviews
Setting her story in the third year of the Civil War, Reeder (Foster's War, p. 61, etc.) writes of a young girl who takes it upon herself to pilot the family's canal boat 184 miles from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown. Kate, 12, learning that her newly remarried, pregnant mother plans to rent out the family's canal boat, decides to make the journey herself, grudgingly enlisting the help of her new stepbrother, Seth. As the two face the dangers of navigating the canal's locks, both are forced to accept and deal with unpleasant insights about themselves as well as one another. Reeder's detailed and realistic narrative of canal life provides a fascinating portrait of a period unique in US history. The real strength of the novel, however, is in the depiction of the complex, tangled relationship that forms between Kate and Seth, and the emotional growth they experience as they struggle to reconcile their feelings about sharing a new family. (Fiction. 10-14) .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380796687
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/2000
  • Pages: 224
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 7.51 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Kate watched Seth run a few sideways steps before he let his first stone fly. Silently she counted the skips it made on the surface of the canal. Only three? She could do better than that with her eyes closed—she hadn't spent her whole life on the C & O Canal for nothing.

The canal was her whole life, Kate thought as she walked along the towpath beside her stepbrother while he skipped one stone after another. The canal, the boat, the mules that towed it, the—

"Hey, you'd better pull up your bonnet, Kate."

Startled out of her reverie, Kate frowned, and Seth said, "Don't you remember? Your mother told me to make sure you kept your bonnet on so you didn't get any more freckles."

Kate's hazel eyes flashed, but she kept her voice even. "She said to remind me to keep it on, and you've done that, but you can't make me do anything." The nerve of him! Besides, the freckles across her nose were hardly noticeable—fairy's dust, Papa had called them. Kate swallowed hard. Even after almost a year and a half, the edges of the hollow place left by his death were still raw.

How could Mama have married again so soon, and married a singing teacher at that? And worst of all, how could she—Kate picked up a stone from the edge of the towpath and threw it with all her might. It sailed diagonally across the canal and hit the railroad track with a resounding clank, just as if she'd planned it that way.

"I never knew you were such a tomboy," Seth said.Hearing the disapproval in his voice, Kate bent to pick up another stone, a smoothly rounded one this time, and with an effortless flip of the wrist she sentit skimming across the water. "Six skips," she said smugly. Now he'd know just how much of a tomboy she was.

"Show-off," Seth muttered. He jammed his hands in his pockets and walked on.

Kate watched him with satisfaction. It was about time Seth found out that not all girls were quiet little ladies like his sister, Julia. Frowning now, Kate thought of how the younger girl was always helping Mama, always with Mama. At least Seth was usually out with his friends and not underfoot like nine-year-old Julia.

But after school today, Mama had asked Seth to go along when Kate went to check over the family's canal boat before this year's boating season began. Kate hadn't objected, because she knew her mother didn't think it proper for a "young lady" to walk alone through the busy industrial area that surrounded the boat basin. But she certainly didn't intend to "be nice to Seth," no matter how many times Mama told her to. Let Julia be nice, Kate thought. Sbe was going to be in charge.

When the lumber mill and workshops along the north side of the boat basin came in sight, Seth waited for Kate to catch up. "How do we tell your barge from all the others?" he asked, looking ahead at the boats tied up along the basin's length.

"It's not a 'barge,' it's a canal boat. The best-looking boat on the C & O." Barge, indeed, Kate thought, though she could see how someone who didn't know any better might call it that. But a barge wouldn't have a cabin for the boaters at one end, a stable for their mules at the other, and a hay house for the mules' feed in the middle. A barge wouldn't have a rudder, either, because you didn't steer a barge. And Kate was pretty sure barges weren't towed by mules walking along a path on shore.

"Hello, there, Katie! Who's your friend?" a woman called from the first boat they passed. Her hair was tied back, and she had a broom in her hand.

"Hi, Mrs. Ames! This is Seth Hillerman, and he's not my friend. He's my stepbrother."

The woman's eyes brightened. "So your mama married again! Well, I'm not surprised. Life's hard for a woman alone." She looked at Seth with interest. "And how old might you be, Seth?"


"The same as Katie! Which of you is older?"

"I am," Seth said.

And Kate quickly added, "But our birthdays are only a week apart."

The woman smiled. "It will be nice for you to have someone your age along while you're going down the canal, won't it, Katie?"

"I'm taking Seth to see our boat now," Kate said, evading the question. She didn't want everyone on the waterway to know how she felt about her mother's marriage and the stepfamily that had been forced on her.

As they walked on, other boaters called out greetings, but Kate was eager to be on the boat again, so she just waved back and didn't stop to chat.

"There she is—The Mary Ann," Kate said at last, pointing to a white boat trimmed with red.

"You say this is the best-looking barge on the C & O Canal?" Seth sounded dubious.

"The best-looking canal boat. Come on." Kate nimbly climbed the wooden ladder Papa had nailed to the side of the boat. "I'll open the windows in the cabin to air it out, and then I'll show you everything," she said as Seth scrambled aboard. It was hard to stay out of sorts on The Mary Ann.Eagerly, Kate led her stepbrother to the cabin and glanced around inside to see that everything was as it should be. Pots and pans hung from nails driven into the wall behind the small coal-burning stove in one corner.

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