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Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers

Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers

by Ginger Wadsworth

Among the tens of thousands of pioneers who left home in covered wagons in the 1800s, headed for the West in hopes of fertile land, gold, or escape from religious or racial persecution, some forty thousand were children. Though the hardships and dangers of the trail were many, these children also witnessed the great and wild beauty of the untouched West and became


Among the tens of thousands of pioneers who left home in covered wagons in the 1800s, headed for the West in hopes of fertile land, gold, or escape from religious or racial persecution, some forty thousand were children. Though the hardships and dangers of the trail were many, these children also witnessed the great and wild beauty of the untouched West and became an integral part of U.S. history. In this unique approach to the history of the wagon trail and western expansion, here are the moving stories of these young pioneers, told in their own words through letters home, diaries, and memoirs.
Ginger Wadsworth’s clear and well-organized presentation is comprehensive, accessible, and richly illustrated with detailed maps and more than ninety archival photos and prints of life on the trail. Endnotes, bibliography, index.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"exemplary...clear prose and...passion for her subject are evident throughout ...superb...fascinating reading...A model of fine history writing." KIRKUS REVIEWS, STARRED REVIEW Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"A uniquely youthful perspective on this period of American history" THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Here's a terrific account of the opening of the American West" NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW The New York Times Book Review

"Clear and concise...new perspective...It is the youthful point of view that makes this book unique and enjoyable." VOYA VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

Children's Literature
The journey west was a different experience for each pioneer that had the courage to blaze new trails. Families, friends, and people who wanted to start a new life were willing to head to the unknown. Full of hope at the beginning, they soon realized that the trip was going to be more difficult than they had ever thought. It was filled with terrible illnesses, attacks by Indians, and other hardships; however, it was also filled with beauty, excitement, experiences, and bonds of friendships that would last a lifetime. This book is written through the voices of many pioneers, through their letters, diaries, and memoirs. The author uses a unique way of approaching that part of history and the reader can actually feel the emotions that came directly from the hearts of the pioneers. Reading some of the letters moved me to tears. This book is well organized, well written, and includes maps, and well selected archival photos and prints that added so much more interests and understanding for the reader. I can't think of a better resource book for students writing about the West, and it should be included in all school libraries. What a wonderful book to own. 2003, Clarion Books, Ages 10 up.
—Kathie M. Josephs
Words West is a significant achievement in non-fiction for young adults. Wadsworth organizes her treatment of 19th century westward migration according to the concerns and hardships faced by overland pioneers, devoting chapters to issues like "chores and chow" and "life, death, and accidents." Woven through her discussion of each topic is a colorful set of excerpts from the diaries, letters, and memoirs of young people making the journey. These quotations breathe life into the narrative and make it much more appealing to adolescent readers. Also, the book benefits from the generous inclusion of historical photographs. Wadsworth covers the full range of experience associated with this aspect of American history. Readers come away with a clear sense of the beauty, tragedy, fear, and work endured by those traveling the major westward trails. Ideally suited for interdisciplinary studies, Words West should appeal to students interested in history or the American West. 2003, Clarion Books, 191 pp., Ages young adult.
—F. Todd Goodson
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Quotations from the journals and other writings of young pioneers enliven this account of families who set out on overland journeys along the Oregon, Santa Fe, and other trails. Most portray a journey filled with hardships and danger, but many of these firsthand accounts bring out another aspect of the experience. For young people, the trip was often filled with fun and excitement-no school other than casual private study and reading, beautiful scenery, and nightly gatherings around campfires to play guitars and fiddles, sing, and dance. Unfortunately, the text is at times repetitious and some statements are generalized or oversimplified. For example, the author states that traveling on Sunday was a moral problem for many women and children but does not mention how men may have felt about the same issue. There is one chapter on Native Americans, but no mention of other inhabitants (e.g., Mexicans in California) displaced by the influx of white emigrants. The illustrations include numerous archival photographs and reproductions of engravings and posters and maps; many may be familiar to readers of Russell Freedman's Children of the Wild West (Clarion, 1983) and other titles. Despite flaws, this book will be a valuable addition to large collections of Western history because of its unique primary-source material.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Forty thousand children and their families made the great overland journeys to the West from 1840 to 1870. Whether escaping poverty or seeking gold, freedom, or farmland, the pioneers' routes-the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail-have become part of the American experience of hitting the road in search of something better. So many young pioneers kept journals that Wadsworth had much to draw on. Her use of primary sources-diaries, letters, and memoirs-is exemplary. Clear prose and a passion for her subject are evident throughout this superb volume. Maps, archival photographs and other period illustrations, informative captions, and many sidebars make fascinating reading. Practically every paragraph of the narrative is supported by quotations from actual travelers. The bibliography is big and useful, including many resources for young readers. A model of fine history writing. (author's note, epilogue, sources, chronology, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.77(d)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Ginger Wadsworth is the author of many nonfiction titles for young readers, including, for Clarion, Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers, which was named a Nonfiction Honor Book by VOYA and received the Western Writers of America Spur Award. She lives in Orinda, California. You can learn more about her at www.gingerwadsworth.com.

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