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Emma's River
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Emma's River

3.0 1
by Alison Hart, Paul Bachem (Illustrator)

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Emma, her pony, and her mother travel up the Missouri River on a steamboat to join Papa on the frontier. When she sneaks to the main deck to check on her beloved pony, she finds Patrick, a stowaway, who's bunking with her pony, and the two make a deal that evolves into friendship. When the Sally May explodes in a fiery blaze, Louisa, Mama, Patrick, wealthy cabin


Emma, her pony, and her mother travel up the Missouri River on a steamboat to join Papa on the frontier. When she sneaks to the main deck to check on her beloved pony, she finds Patrick, a stowaway, who's bunking with her pony, and the two make a deal that evolves into friendship. When the Sally May explodes in a fiery blaze, Louisa, Mama, Patrick, wealthy cabin passengers, poor immigrants, and one plucky pony must find a way to survive the disaster.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
As Emma boards the steamboat Sally May with her mama, she is grateful and relieved to have another member of the party: her pony Twist. Emma was able to convince mama to allow the pony to come along as they travel to join her papa on the frontier. While on the steamboat, Emma worries about her mother, who keeps having fainting spells and feeling ill. She also worries about Twist, who must stay below for the entire journey. Emma makes friends with the captain and finds the boat to be exciting, but she cannot stop worrying about Twist. Finally, she sneaks down to see Twist. Emma is stunned to find a boy sleeping in the stall. Emma makes a deal with Patrick, who is a stowaway, to care for Twist in exchange for her bringing him food and keeping his secret. But her friendship with Patrick is not the only surprise in store for Emma. Emma's worries for her mother change into something else when she learns why her mother must rest so often and is so dizzy all the time. But even the coming of a brother or sister is nothing compared to the terrifying moment when the Sally May explodes and all the passengers must find a way to survive. A fast-paced, compelling tale (although the cover gives away the climax). Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Emma Wright, 10, is excited to ride the steamboat Sally May up the Missouri River to Kansas City to meet her father. From there the family will travel west to California to make their fortune during the boom time of 1852. However, she loves her pony, Licorice Twist, and as she and her mother are getting settled on the boat she worries about his welfare. During a trip down to the forbidden main deck, Emma meets stowaway Patrick O'Brien, who is about 11 or 12. At first the two don't get along, but they eventually become friends and he takes care of her horse in exchange for food. When the boiler explodes, Emma finds out just how much of a friend Patrick really is. As she schemes and struggles to find a way to see her horse, readers are given a child's-eye view of a steamboat trip in the mid-1800s. True to the time, the word "Negro" is used and there are some stereotypical attitudes about Indians. Though unevenly paced and with some unbelievable aspects—particularly Emma's ignorance about her mother's pregnancy—this novel is a good introduction to the period. It is especially suited to "American Girl" series fans looking for slightly longer books. Emma is a plucky heroine and while not much happens until the very end of her story, readers will enjoy following her as she learns and grows. The ending leaves open the possibility for a sequel.—Necia Blundy, Marlborough Public Library, MA
Kirkus Reviews
Ten-year-old Emma travels up the Mississippi on the steamboat Sally May in 1852, defending her pony against ruffians, throwing improbable temper tantrums and learning about social injustice. The big river and the boat form an interesting background, but the story doesn't hold water. Emma travels with her about-to-give-birth mother (who transfers from a posh private home to the boat within hours of delivery) and a doctor assigned to her care. They're meeting Emma's father, but why he doesn't travel with them and why they are joining him at the end of Mama's pregnancy is never explained. The doctor spends his time gambling in the men's lounge, without, as he promised, tending to either Emma or her pony (supposedly no one but Emma cares if the animal is given food or water during the four-day trip). The pony becomes a plot device-an excuse for Emma to venture onto the forbidden deck-and a reason to put an attractive animal on the book cover. Worst of all, Emma comes across as inconsistent-one moment she's holding her breath until she gets her way, the next she's volunteering to help impoverished accident victims-and ultimately unlikable. Exclamation points abound! As she has shown in Shadow Horse (1999) and others, Hart can do better. (Historical fiction. 7-10)

Product Details

Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.60(d)
650L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

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Emma's River 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
suelle10 More than 1 year ago
It's always neat to read a book set in your home state, especially if it's not written about very much. I've lived most of my life in Missouri, and most of that in St. Louis. So to have a book about a girl from St. Louis that rides on a riverboat up the Missouri River in 1852 is a nice change from all the books about westward expansion that only begin after leaving Missouri. Emma is 10 years old & is travelling with her mother & a family friend on the riverboat Sally May up to St. Joe, Missouri to meet her father. From there they have plans to travel west to California and seek their fortune in the gold boom. Emma has finagled her mother into allowing her pony, Licorice Twist, to come also, despite the extra stress this causes the family. Emma is worried that Dr. Burton, the family friend, isn't going to make sure that Twist is taken care of properly on board the Sally May, so she sneaks off to the lowest level of the steamboat to take care of him herself. There she meets Patrick, an Irish stowaway, and befriends him. The details are expertly given on riverboat travel at the time, and I learned quite a few things about them. I didn't know that there were steerage passengers on steamboats also at that time, though after learning that it didn't surprise me that they were treated so poorly. I did know of the dangers of riverboat travel, especially the nasty habit they had of blowing up, after learning a few years back about Mark Twain's younger brother who died in a riverboat accident. They would try to race each other and get to their destinations fast, so they pushed the edge of their steam engines quite a bit. I was a little disappointed in the ending of the book since it ended so happily--all of the main characters not only survive the blast, but decide to travel west together. But that could be because I'm a jaded adult reading a children's book! All in all, it was a well done historical read, one that would help children really get into the past and understand what went on.