Watever Happened to the Pony Express?

Overview

When the Pony Express came along, it cut the time it took to send a letter across the country in half. But only a year and a half later, with the arrival of transcontinental telegraph lines, it was put right out of business.

Along with a family's story told through crosscountry letters, Verla Kay uses her trademark short, rhythmic verse to pack in loads of information about how the Pony Express came to be and why it didn't last. And Barry and Kim Root's gorgeous illustrations ...

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Overview

When the Pony Express came along, it cut the time it took to send a letter across the country in half. But only a year and a half later, with the arrival of transcontinental telegraph lines, it was put right out of business.

Along with a family's story told through crosscountry letters, Verla Kay uses her trademark short, rhythmic verse to pack in loads of information about how the Pony Express came to be and why it didn't last. And Barry and Kim Root's gorgeous illustrations help bring this fascinating, fleeting bit of history to new life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Echoing the purposeful rhythms of a pony express rider, Kay's (Rough, Tough Charley) characteristically spare and cadenced verse sets a deliberate pace as she examines the history of information delivery in the U.S. "Letters, papers,/ ‘Must get through.'/ Lonely outpost,/ Rendezvous./ Stationmaster,/ Midnight sky./ Changing horses/ ‘On the fly.'?" This catalogue of various delivery methods, from cumbersome stagecoaches and camels to the Pony Express and telegraph, is sandwiched within a brief, epistolary story of grown siblings who live across the country and share family news via these outlets; their colloquial notes and telegrams allow readers to glimpse their joys and hardships. Realistic ink, gouache, and watercolor illustrations by the Roots, in their first book together, burst with vigor, especially those of a Pony Express rider jetting across the page, dodging arrows as he flies. Subtle details in the layout (spurs form the corners of a border in several scenes) are gratifying. While the story may seem to end abruptly with the advent of the steam train, it packs more than a saddlebag's worth of information. Author notes and time line included. Ages 5–8. (May)
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—Through a series of letters between a brother and sister, Kay examines changes in mail delivery during the time period 1851-1870. Transport methods include wagon, stagecoach, boat, camel, horseback (Pony Express), telegraph, and train. The rhymed text flows well. "Orphans wanted,/Riders, rough./Risk of death daily,/Must be tough./Ponies purchased,/Mailbags, thin./Special saddles./Spurs—dig in!'" While the brief phrases provide the larger historical context, the illustrations, rendered in pencil, ink, gouache, and watercolor, are crucial in developing the personal drama of the siblings and their families. The browns, oranges, and yellows of the color palette effectively reflect the primarily Western setting. Stylized reproductions of the letters and a telegram are incorporated into the pictures. The story is about the desire to communicate across long distances; appropriately, each pictorial spread is full of forward movement. Varying cultures are represented. The brother is a farmer in California; his sister marries a Pennsylvania miner. As their missives traverse the country, readers see soldiers, Native Americans, cowboys, construction workers, and other townspeople along the route. An author's note offers more detail about the Pony Express itself and its historical context. A list of "notable dates" helps readers clearly see the progression outlined in the text. Libraries will want to accept delivery of this attractive and informative package.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Kirkus Reviews
In her characteristic stripped-down verse, Kay fashions the attributes and enterprise of the Pony Express, which is celebrating its sesquicentennial. The Express was only active for a year and a half-laid to rest by the telegraph and railroad-but its romance and color have never faded in the American iconography. Kay picks out the salient features in her compact verse, showing a nice hand with mood and landscape: "Letters, papers, / ?Must get through.' / Lonely outpost, / Rendezvous. // Stationmaster, / Midnight sky. / Changing horses / ?On the fly.' " To the verse add the Roots' visual pizzazz, with artwork like posters for a John Ford movie. Though the author's telegraphic verse is effective, she adds human interest to the story's bones by working a correspondence between an Eastern sister and transplanted Western brother into the mix. The letters are a testament to the life-changing importance of the swift completion of the mail's rounds. A worthy companion for younger readers to Michael Spradlin's recent Off Like the Wind!, illustrated by Layne Johnson (2010). (Picture book. 4-7)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399244834
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/13/2010
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 1,394,980
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.00 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Verla Kay is the author of many acclaimed historical books for children. She lives in Tekoa, Washington.

Barry and Kimberly Root live with their children in Pennsylvania. Illustrators of highly praised picture books separately, this is their first book together.

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