Lawlor's (Helen Keller: Rebellious Spirit) historical account is at once a chronicle of a punishing pioneer trek and an encomium to a faithful ox. A child recalls his family's trip across Death Valley, where the bitterly cold nights compel the family to burn their wagon for firewood. Unlike the other oxen, which buck off their riders, Old Crump carries the narrator and his three siblings on its back, moving "slow and steady. Never a stumble or a fall." When the family finally reaches California, the father lets Old Crump roam the pasture, in gratitude for the ox's steadfastness. The narrative pays as much attention to the trek's forbidding circumstances as it does the ox's importance. Lawlor, working from period diaries, focuses on the journey's hardships, making this a solid introduction to the historic journey to the West: "Ma crumbled bits of sugar for us to hold in our mouths so we wouldn't think so much about our thirst or empty stomachs." Winch's (The Old Woman Who Loved to Read) mixed-media illustrations foreground the ox and children in only one of the spreads. Elsewhere, he plays up the drama of nature's perils, favoring a predator's-eye view and thus subtly emphasizing the desert's dangers. The illustrations set the artist's characteristic folk-art-style figures against photographs of the Valley's lunar rocks and sands. Ages 4-8. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A young boy tells how his pioneer family survives the heat, hunger and thirst of a trek through Death Valley. They can do it only with the help of their faithful ox, Old Crump, who carries the children throughout it all to green, fertile California. The ox is kept and cared for thereafter by the grateful family. The text is spare, but conveys well the rigors of the journey. Winch's family portrait on the jacket/cover gives center stage to Old Crump, along with a preview of his use of detailed lines to fully define characters and settings. The end and title pages, filled with rocks of browns and dull yellows with a couple of nasty bugs, warn of a tough journey. Long double-page scenes cleverly incorporate photographs of rocky landscapes with details of the desert—birds of prey, lizards, objects discarded by struggling people. The ultimate contrast with the lush abundance of California is portrayed with stoic dignity. A note adds to the documentation of the true story about which this is based. 2002, Holiday House, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz AGES: 4 5 6 7 8
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-A group of wagoners making their way to California in 1850 attempt a short cut and end up having to cross Death Valley. Lawlor begins their story in medias res: on the first page of her narrative, the travelers are already in trouble. Faced with sheer walls of rock, they must find a passage out of the mountains while faced with dwindling supplies. By the time they reach Death Valley, the parents put the children in makeshift saddle bags and tie them to the ox. Though other draft animals falter and die for lack of food and water, faithful Old Crump plods on. At last, nearly dead from thirst, the family stumbles onto a ranch where they are given food and drink. When they eventually settle in the San Joaquin Valley, Old Crump is kept as a cherished family member. Winch's illustrations are an interesting blend of photographs and original art; paintings of the group and their activities are depicted against photos of barren, bleak rock or distant mountains. A hawk is pictured on almost every spread, watching the travelers. Although the author refers to the historical basis of this story only in a brief introductory note, the book will make an interesting addition to other works about the Westward movement.-Ruth Semrau, Upshur County Public Library, Gilmer, TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Old Crump is a faithful ox who carries four children of forty-niners safely through Death Valley and across the mountains into California. He narrowly escapes being killed for food by the starving travelers, but in the end his faithfulness is rewarded. Although this is apparently based on a true story, there is no citation identifying the source of the diaries and letters mentioned in an author's note. The intriguing illustrations add details, such as a watchful red-tailed hawk, a dog, and a desert mouse whose antics add interest to the tale, but Australian Winch (The Colt and the King, below, etc.) slips up in his illustration of a meal of "tortillas, beans, milk, and cheese," which shows heaping plates of green beans rather than the expected frijoles. There are other problems in terms of plausibility. The travelers are reported to have burned their covered wagons and everything in them to keep warm during a cold windy night. Wouldn't it have made more sense to crawl inside for shelter? In another instance, what looks like a shining lake turns out to be only a pool of brine. "Nothing but a mirage," the text says. But technically this is not a mirage—there was water, although it was undrinkable. It would be nice to know the true story of these children and the ox, but this tale, like a mirage, is unfortunately not to be trusted. (Picture book. 4-8)