The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs


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When Eben McAllister reads about the Seven Wonders of the World, he longs to escape the small farming community of Sassafras Springs and do some exploring f his own. No one else ever seems to want to leave Sassafras however — not even his best pal, Jeb — and so, for now, Eben figures he's stuck on the farm with Pa and Aunt Pretty until he grows up.
All that changes when his pa, tired of Eben's moping, challenges him to find Seven Wonders in Sassafras Springs that can stang up to the real Seven Wonders of the World. And if he does? Then Eben will get the adventure he's been craving for — a trip out West. Eben doesn't reckon he'll have any luck — he can't think of even one thing that would be called "interesting," let along wonderous, in Sassafras, but he figures he'll give it a try; there's nothing else to do in Sassafras anyway.
While his mission puzzles and annoys some of his friends and neighbors, Eben perseveres, little knowing that he is in for a big surprise. For what with a singing saw, a floating table, and a truth-telling loom (just to name a few), the Wonders Eben will discover among his neighbors, friends, and family will give him the adventure of a lifetime...without his ever leaving home.
Told in a down-home narrative with glimmers of magical realism woven throughout, and illustrated with sumptuous drawings by Matt Phelan, Betty G. Birney's tale about a boy's journey of discovery reminds us all that extraordinary things can happen in the most ordinary of places...even in Sassafras Springs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416934899
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 02/27/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 84,920
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Betty G. Birney is an Emmy-winning screenwriter who specializes in live-action TV, and animation for children. She lives with her family in Studio City, California.

Matt Phelan's black-and-white illustrations first appeared in The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney. His picture books include The New Girl...and Me and Two of a Kind, both written by Jacqui Robbins. Matt lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt

How It Started

Sometimes extraordinary things begin in ordinary places. A fancy-dancy butterfly starts out in a plain little cocoon. A great big apple tree grows from a tiny brown speck of a seed. And the Wonders started right on our own front porch on a hot summer night I would have forgotten on the spot if it hadn't been for what got started then and kept on going.

Who knows, maybe Columbus decided to look for a New World one hot summer night when he got tired of staring at the same old barn. Or maybe one evening after supper, Balboa stood up and said, "Excuse me now, folks. I'm going to search for the Pacific Ocean."

There was no chance of seeing an ocean in Sassafras Springs, which is set smack dab in the center of the country. Though a dip in Liberty Creek was welcome on a boiling hot day, to my mind it was a poor excuse for a body of water. Shoot, it wasn't even a dribble on the big map of the United States that hung on the schoolhouse wall.

Red Hawk, Coy, and Iron Valley all had dots on the map, but not Sassafras Springs, Missouri. We might as well have been invisible, yet there I was, sitting on the front porch with Pa and Aunt Pretty. The chores were done, our bellies were full, and the mosquitoes hadn't worked up much of an appetite yet.

Aunt Pretty sat in her high-back rocker, crocheting some lacy thing as usual, though for the life of me I couldn't make out what it was meant to be. I hoped it wasn't intended for me. Pa whittled on a stick and I was staring hard at a drawing in a book. It was a first-rate book with lots of pictures in it. Miss Collins, the schoolteacher, gave it to me on the last day of school for getting the best marks in geography.

My mind was a million miles away when suddenly my aunt said, "Eben McAllister, you've had your nose in that book so long, I forgot what you look like! Wake up and see the world."

I gazed out at the familiar white fence, the faded red barn, and the yellow clay road. A pair of fireflies blinked over Aunt Pretty's peony bed. Our horses, Pat and Murph, were in the barn, Mabel and Myrt were milked, and the chickens had gone to bed long ago. My dog, Sal, thumped her tail, most likely hoping I would stir up some excitement. She should have known better.

"Nothing to see," I said and went back to my book. Sal rolled on her side and yawned.

"You'd think someone would have something interesting to say about something," Aunt Pretty said. "Living with the two of you is like living alone. I might as well talk to myself."

Although I didn't say it, Aunt Pretty did talk to herself, all day long. It was no picnic taking care of Pa and me. She moved in when Ma died four years ago and did all she could. Still, it was lonely for her because Aunt Pretty could talk your arm off, while Pa and I weren't ones to waste words.

"What's so interesting about that book, anyway?" Aunt Pretty asked.

"It's about the Seven Wonders of the World," I told her. "They built these amazing things way back in ancient Greece and Egypt and places."

Pa blew the shavings off his stick. "What things?" he asked.

I showed him the book, and he took his time studying the drawings. He read the names out loud, and they sounded fine. The Great Pyramid at Giza. The Colossus of Rhodes. The Statue of Zeus. The giant Lighthouse at Alexandria. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Big things. Wonderful things.

"We don't have anything like that around Sassafras Springs," I pointed out.

"We do have the wash hanging on the line every Monday," Aunt Pretty chuckled. "Call it the Hanging Laundry of Sassafras Springs and put it in a book. There's your Wonder."

I tried to make her understand. "These were important things. In faraway lands."

Aunt Pretty sniffed loudly. "Seems to me we have lighthouses right here in the U.S.A."

"Not like this one. This light could be seen for thirty miles. Fires burned behind the eyes. See?" I held up the page with a drawing of the Lighthouse at Alexandria, but my aunt barely glanced at it.

Pa calmly scraped away at his stick of wood. "I guess I could put some eyes up on the side of the barn, but I'm afraid the fires would scare the horses."

I didn't give him the satisfaction of a comeback.

"I suppose we all have notions that others might find peculiar," Aunt Pretty said.

"Everyone except you, Pretty." Pa's voice was teasinglike.

"You hush up, Cole, or I'll bake up a batch of Aunt Dessy's biscuits for breakfast."

They both chuckled. "What are they?" I asked.

"Your great-aunt Dessy always got her recipes all mixed-up. She could never remember whether it was a cup of flour and a pinch of salt, or a pinch of flour and a cup of salt. So her biscuits were hard as rocks," Aunt Pretty explained.

"No wonder Uncle Jonah didn't have a tooth left in his head," Pa said, and they exploded into laughter, though going without teeth didn't seem too funny to me. "Yep, Dessy's biscuits were downright Wonders," Pa added, and he and my aunt laughed even harder.

"That's not what I mean!" I was getting seriously annoyed. "I'm talking about things so special, folks would travel all around the world to see them!"

Aunt Pretty put down her crocheting and sighed. "Eben, why do you spend so much time thinking about those foreign places?"

"Because someday I'm going to see them," I told her. "I'm going round the world on a tramp steamer, like the fellow who wrote this book."

Aunt Pretty huffed and started crocheting with a vengeance. "Wouldn't that be a scandal! Leaving your pa alone with all this work. Leaving the farm to go to rack and ruin."

"Eben's free to lead his own life, once he's grown up," Pa said. "If the farm doesn't suit him."

I stared at the barn for a spell. "Why do all the barns in Sassafras Springs look the same?" To this day, I don't know why I was in such a complaining frame of mind, but I was. "Why isn't there a round one? Or a blue one? Or one with a tower?"

Aunt Pretty's crochet hook hung in midair. "A round blue barn with a tower. Now I've heard everything. What would people think?"

"Maybe they'd think Sassafras Springs is a place worth seeing, instead of just passing us by," I told her.

"Sassafras Springs is as good a place to live as any I've heard of." Aunt Pretty's voice was firm. "We'd look silly with a pyramid out in our cornfield."

"Just think, Pretty, we could charge folks to see it," Pa joked. "You could sell the tourists lemonade and your good apple pie."

My aunt laughed. I did not.

Pa eyeballed his whittling stick again. "That Egypt looks to be a mighty dry place. I wonder how they grow the crops to live on."

"They've done fine for all these years," I snapped back.

A lopsided moon popped up in the dusky sky, but it didn't shed light on any Wonders.

"Maybe our buildings are lacking in originality," Pa admitted. "Still, I can't believe there aren't a few Wonders around here somewhere. Maybe a little smaller than that pyramid, so's you haven't noticed yet."

I didn't mean to sigh as giant a sigh as I did right then. The light was fading fast, and Aunt Pretty's crochet hook was flying like fury.

Pa stared out at the farm with a faraway look in his eyes. "Annie May always wanted to go up to Silver Peak, Colorado, to see Cousin Molly and her husband, Eli. She wanted to see a real, honest-to-goodness tall mountain, the kind with snow on top. I sure wish I'd have taken her."

I swallowed the lump of sorrow I felt whenever Ma's name came up. Sal got up and pressed her chin on my knee.

We all sat silent, even Aunt Pretty, until Pa asked, "Does that book tell what a Wonder really is?"

I thumbed through the pages, back to the introduction. "Here it is. It says, 'a marvel; that which arouses awe, astonishment, surprise, or admiration.'"

Pa scratched his cheek with the dull side of his knife. "I've seen one or two things to admire around here. Maybe if you put out a little effort, you would too."

I closed the book and leaned back on both elbows. "But what's the point?"

"I just think there's no use searching the world for Wonders when you can't see the marvels right under your own nose."

"Amen," said Aunt Pretty.

It wasn't enough to satisfy me, not in the mood I was in. "Just what marvels are you talking about?"

Pa stood up and started pacing around, rubbing the back of his neck the way he always did when he was pondering something important.

"Eben, I have a deal for you," he finally announced. "You find yourself Seven Wonders right here in Sassafras Springs, and I'll buy you a ticket to go see Molly and Eli and that mountain!"

I almost fell off the porch. So did Aunt Pretty.

"All by himself?" she asked, rolling her eyes. "An eleven-year-old boy staying with folks who are practically strangers out there in the wilderness?"

Pa ignored her. "Of course, like you say, you probably can't find seven amazing things in all of Sassafras Springs, but you could try."

My mind was racing. "A train ticket? When?"

"Reckon there's time right before harvest."

"Can I enter this contest?" Aunt Pretty asked.

"The deal's between me and the boy." Pa rose from his chair and disappeared into the house.

"Colorado." Aunt Pretty shook her head. "Why, I would have been tickled pink just to go over to St. Clair when I was a girl."

I've never been able to picture my aunt as a girl. Her real name, Purity, got shortened to "Pretty" years ago. The name stuck, though she'd added a few pounds over the years. Pleasingly plump, as she said. Pa always told her she was still in her prime. "You're a fine figure of a woman, little sister," he'd say. That made Aunt Pretty blush every time.

The door squealed as Pa came back outside and handed me a pad of paper. "You can keep track of your Wonders here."

"How long do I have?"

"Seven days seems fair," said Pa, settling back down. "Long as it took for God to create this world and take a day off."

"A Wonder a day? I don't know." At that moment, seven of anything sounded like a lot. Especially since if Sassafras Springs had Wonders, they hadn't showed up so far.

Still, I could already hear that train whistle calling, could already see those tracks pointing toward the white-capped mountains of Colorado.

"I'll start tomorrow." I guess Columbus said something like that once, only he said it in Italian.

Copyright © 2005 by Betty G. Birney

Reading Group Guide


Twelve-year-old Eben McAllister dreams of faraway places after he reads a book about the Seven Wonders of the World. He feels doomed to stay on the farm and in his small community of Sassafras Springs until he grows up. His father challenges him to find seven wonders among his friends and neighbors in order to win a train ticket to visit a cousin in Colorado.


Wonder; Country life; Family life; Neighbors


• What do you know about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? Which ones would you like to be able to see?

• What wonders exist in your community? How could you go about uncovering them?

• Do you think you would like living in Sassafras Springs? Why or why not? If you could accompany Eben on his search for wonders, which person would you spend the most time talking to? Why?


• Research the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and make a diorama to show them.

• Explore your community and compile a list of the seven most interesting ones you find. Make a display with photos, stories, or models for each wonder.

• Eben was rewarded for his success by being able to go to St. Louis on the train. Imagine you earned a week's vacation anywhere in the world. Plan an itinerary and research travel arrangements, housing options, and sightseeing opportunities for this trip. Make a scrapbook of this imaginary trip complete with photos, schedules, and expenses.

This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

Prepared by Arlene Wiler

© William Allen White Children's Book Award

Please visit for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles.

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The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Eben McAllister is an 11-year-old boy who lives in a small farming town in Sassafras Springs. He has a bet with his dad that if he can find 7 wonders in 7 days around Sassafras Springs he can go on a train to Colorado. Eben gets really excited because he was just researching the 7 Wonders of the World. He thinks that it is going to be easy, but finds out that it is a lot more difficult than he expected. With his dog they go and search for wonders in their town. They run into some trouble on the way. But Eben has a whole lot of fun searching for wonders in his small town because everyone wants him to hear their story. Eben, Aunt Pretty, Pa and Jeb are the main characters. Betty G. Birney is the author of this fictional book Overall I liked the idea of Eben finding wonders because it was an interesting plot. I liked that he was working towards a goal to go to Colorado. It made me want to read on. But when the wonders were so pointless it turned me off. I would not recommend this book for children over 8 years old. I would recommend this book for 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade teachers for a read a loud. It was more appropriate for younger kids. For kids my age it is too unrealistic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this is a great read. It will suit anyone 5th grade ( like me!) Or older. Cmon! Lets read this book its awesome!
EGHunter01 More than 1 year ago
Who are Pretty, Purity, and Annie May? In a small town what seven wonders do you think the protagonist will find? Where do you think the wonders are? Where is Sassafras Springs? The charcoal illustrations in the novel have wonderful detail and assist the story to come-to-life. According to the protagonist a wonder is classified as a marvel; that which arouses awe, astonishment, or admiration. Let's step back in time and enjoy a journey to see some wonders. This novel is a marvelous mental voyage with easy-to-read paragraphs and lively dialogue. It is sure to intrigue many youth ages 8 to 12, in about 4th to 7th grade. A well developed protagonist and other key characters will keep the reader fascinated; this novel is good on a long bus, car, plane, or train ride or any day the reader feels like enjoying a great story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great story for all ages! Eben's search to find wonders in his own town can be translated into countless lessons for the reader. Each neighbor he encounters has a 'wonder'ful story to share, and eventually Eben realizes that wonders come in all shapes and sizes. Eben's Pa and Aunt Pretty are priceless. Ms. Birney has created characters that I will remember forever. If you like Richard Peck's A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, you'll love this book. This would be a great read aloud!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a good, fun story of adventure. I enjoyed reading which wonders Eben might find. It's nice to be taken back to when kids could use their imagination and walk through-out their town, talking to people, discovering their environment and be safe doing so! This is a heart-warming, purposeful book. Excellent tool for teaching!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book for all ages. I absolutely love the wisdom, flow, perspective, and profound storytelling ability of this author. In seeking life's intrinsic treasures, what better way to question how to measure greatness, meaning, happiness, and wonder than to seek and discover these things hidden in our own back yards? The story Ms. Birney weaves is so close to my own heart, I could almost swear that I grew up in Sassafras Springs. Though I am sad to say that my dissatisfaction growing up in the country, on the outskirts of a town with seemingly little to offer, did not allow me to realize the wonders surrounding me in my youth until I was well into adulthood. I sincerely wish a challenge similar to that of Eben's had been issued to me growing up so I could have learned at a much earlier age to appreciate what I now recognize I missed. In relation to my own childhood, the moving nature of this story made me weep. Matt Phelan's illustrations are a wonderful compliment to this book. His drawings are completely classic and fit the story so perfectly, they remind me of Garth Williams' insight for the illustrations of the Little House series and E.B. White's enchanting tales. Though many recent books feature trendier artwork, the purity of Mr. Phelan's style is parallel to the purity of the story he brings to life with his drawings. This book is destined to be a great classic, perhaps equal in significance to works such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Tom Sawyer. I have already begun a second reading of this story, and I am sure I will reread it many more times during my life as well. I believe it is my favorite of all the new books I have read in the last ten years. I literally could not put it down until I had finished it, and even dropped it into the kitchen sink at one point while combining daily chores while reading. This is a meaningful story of the heart and speaks directly to the meaning of life. I recommend it for everyone. --J.H. Sweet, author of The Fairy Chronicles
vernefan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fabulolus children's story destined to be a long time classic. Charming, adorable and funny.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One hot, boring, summer day, Eben (who thinks always of traveling away from Sassafras Springs) begins, instead, a journey of discovery. Sometimes extraordinary things begin in ordinary places. A fancy-dancy butterfly starts out in a plain little cocoon. A great big apple tree grows from a tiny brown speck of a seed. And the Wonders started right on our own front porch on a hot summer night I would have forgotten on the spot if it hadn't been for what got started then and kept on going.A little bit of wonderment in seeing a child's eyes opened to more of the world around him. A little bit of nostalgia for a simple, small-town story. Just an adorable, feel-good children's book.
ChristianR on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A feel-good story about finding wondrous things right at home in the middle of the familiar. Eben is itchy to go and see the world, especially after reading about the great wonders of the world. His father promises him a trip to see relatives in the mountains if he can find seven wonders in his home town. Nicely done, but perhaps will appeal more to adults than to kids.
nittnut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Eben McAllister can't wait to leave Sassafras Springs. He wants to travel, to see the wonders of the world. His father challenges him to find seven wonders there at home. Full of folk tales and wonderful characters, this story will charm you and inspire you to look for wonders at home too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Grear read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked it. It for sure was a easy read but a good one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I havent read this book yet but Im writing this right before Im about to buy and read it. Im really looking forward to reading it.
InTheBookcase More than 1 year ago
I loved the pleasurable, completely undignified way that the story (or rather... stories) play out in "The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs". When young Eben's father gives him a challenge to find 7 "Wonders" in their dusty little 1923 town of Sassafras Springs, Missouri, Eben isn't so sure that he can really discover that many Wonders. He only has been given 7 days to find these marvels, and he's quite sure that no Great Pyramid of Giza or Hanging Gardens of Babylon will be found in Sassafras Springs. If he successfully completes the challenge, Eben's father has promised him a special trip by train, all the way to Colorado. This would be the biggest thing to ever happen to Eben, a boy who has only been able to dream of traveling. Now his chance has arisen to get out of Missouri, and discover great things... but to do it, he has to explore his own turf further and deeper than he ever knew before. Many of the tales that Eben comes across include some sort of whimsical imagination in order to listen to the old stories that country folks can tell. Some are a bit too far-fetched, but enjoyable. I had almost convinced myself to give this book 3 stars, but then I remembered the simple ways that the author added in a few words here and there about the Lord, singing in church, etc., and I felt satisfied in giving it a 4 star rating instead. This is a cute book, and my younger brother absolutely loves it. I think no better words really describe it than the review given on the front cover, which says: "A fun, folksy outing." Truly, that explains "The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs" perfectly. To leave you now with my favorite quote of the book, coming from the first chapter: "I'll start tomorrow. I guess Columbus said something like that once, only he said it in Italian."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recomend you should read this book because,it tells about eben trying to find wonders in sasafras springs. Here are some wonders,a table that walks,a musical saw,a bookshelf, and a apple head doll.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Moving. I love the voice.
Stardust_Fiddle More than 1 year ago
“Sometimes extraordinary things begin in ordinary places.” This is the lesson that eleven-year-old Eben McAllister is about to learn. Living with his Aunt Pretty and his Pa in the small farming community of Sassafras Springs, Missouri, in 1923, he longs for adventure beyond the hum-drum routine of farming life and spends his free time perusing a book about the Seven Wonders of the World. There certainly isn’t anything that interesting around Sassafras Springs. Or is there? Pa challenges Eben to find seven wonders in Sassafras Springs in seven days, and if he does, he will earn a train ticket to visit relatives in Colorado. Eben can hardly believe it, and he excitedly agrees to the deal. Working on the farm doesn’t leave much time for searching, but Eben is determined to give the quest his best efforts. Eben quickly discovers that not everyone takes kindly to his mission, and suddenly seven days seems like a rather short period of time. However, he and his faithful dog Sal travel all over the village inquiring about wonders, sometimes accompanied by Eben’s best friend, Jeb. Eben comes to realize that things are not always as they appear, and sometimes the most mundane objects actually have an astonishing story to tell. Along the way, he learns fascinating details about some of Sassafras Springs’ residents and the town’s past and discovers that maybe his hometown isn’t as lackluster as he always thought. As Pa says, it’s all a matter of perspective, and Eben’s is forever changed by his quest. Infused with magical realism, Betty G. Birney’s “The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs” seamlessly blends a young boy’s coming-of-age with the tall tales typical of rural country life in this heartwarming children’s novel. Told in the first person from Eben’s point of view, the story bears the down-to-earth and often humorous language of a young boy who is growing up and who is eager to discover the world outside of his small birthplace. Delightful sketch illustrations add to the appeal of the narrative, which is divided into a chapter for each wonder and also subdivided into the story behind each wonder. “The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs” is a highly creative story that will enhance the reader’s imagination and lead to a greater appreciation of one’s roots, no matter where they have been planted. Don’t be surprised if your own perspective shifts after reading this charming story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I reaf the book my dog is named sal
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nice good book for the nook
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My first block is reading this book. Oh my god it amazing book for first, second, third, and forth like me. So i hilley recomend this book.
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