K-Gr 3-A simple, personal narrative based on stories told to the author by his grandmother. In the early part of this century, Essie's father, a hired hand on a Missouri farm, builds a covered wagon and takes the family to western Kansas, where he can have his own farm. Vignettes of their life there follow. During their second year in Kansas, the farm fails, so the family moves on to Oklahoma and the oil fields. After another year, during which her sister dies and Essie goes to work in a cafe, they save enough to move back to Missouri and buy another small farm. Here Essie remains until her marriage. Only Papa, who cannot bring himself to attend his daughter's funeral, has substance and gives a sense of the hardship and loss suffered by the family. It falls on Sadowski's splendid oil paintings to give the tale a sense of place and time. Occasional narrative details give color and texture to the story that the subdued, earthy tones of the illustrations lack. Other similar works, such as Brett Harvey's Cassie's Journey (1987) and My Prairie Year (1986, both Holiday), Scott Russell Sanders's Aurora Means Dawn (Bradbury, 1989), and Karen Ackerman's Araminta's Paint Box (Atheneum, 1990) are better choices.-Linda Greengrass, Bank Street College Library, New York City
"We traveled through Kansas on dust and rock roads that went on forever." Williams lets his grandmother tell the story of her pioneer childhood, when her father built a covered wagon and took his family from their small Missouri log cabin in search of a place in the West. The voice is quietly upbeat, remembering the adventure and the safety of the family wagon against the wild outside. Precise details evoke the hardship as well as the hope: the first settled farm, where Mama decorated the Christmas tree with pictures from the Sears and Roebuck catalog; the tornado that made the air "thick as a stampede"; the drought, failure, the moving on again; the death and burial of a sister in the oil fields of Oklahoma; and finally, the settling in a place Grandma Essie has never left. Sadowski's paintings, many of them double-page landscapes, are reminiscent of period illustrations and photographs, the figures slightly stiff and surrounded by the huge rolling prairie through the changing seasons. Teachers could use this picture book with oral history projects across the curriculum, leading kids to the rich stories in every family's past. Although the Library of Congress classifies the book as fiction, libraries may want to shelve it with biography.