Wagons Ho!, by George Hallowell and Joan Holub, is a dual narrative showing two families moving from Missouri to Oregon. Jenny Johnson's family sets out in 1846, on a five month journey. Katie Miller's family sets out now, and takes just five days to make the same trip. Various parallels exist between the girls (both have dolls, pets, and pesky little brothers). Their journeys are related in parallel, with them each passing landmarks on the same page, each complaining about the length of the journey on the same page, etc. These parallels serve to emphasize the things that are different (mode of transportation, food, lodging, etc.), while celebrating things that are universal.
There's a lot of information packed away in this book, mostly in the details about Jenny's journey. There's not much suspense to either story (beyond little details like will the lost doll be found). But it is neat to see where the stories intersect, as when Katie and her brother climb to the top of Independence Rock to "see where the pioneers wrote their names." The text is straightforward, focusing mostly on facts, like this:
"I walk mostly. So do Mama and Mr. Trouble. Papa drives the wagon. It is so bumpy that it churns Lulu's milk to butter in one day!" (Jenny, 1846)
"More driving. We play the license plate game. Alaska and Hawaii are hard to find." (Katie, present day)
Wagons Ho! is more a book for poring over than for reading aloud. There are lots of little journal-like entries, like "5 A.M.: Round up cattle", along with captions and callouts. Most pages consist of series of vignettes, such that every page covers multiple topics. It's a busy book, one that could be intimidating to preschoolers, though it would make a nice companion to a school unit on Pioneers.
Lynne Avril's illustrations are detailed and colorful, with a hint of the cartoon to them. Wagons Ho! almost reads like a graphic novel in picture book form. Katie and Jenny are cute and intrepid, each shown in a range of situations on every page. Various signs and embedded postcards and the like create opportunities for the inclusion of different fonts, lending extra visual interest.
Wagons Ho! is an interesting look at the differences between 1846 and today, and a window (if somewhat rose-tinted, as one would expect from a picture book) into the lives of the pioneers who left everything to travel West. There is plenty of detail to engage early elementary school kids. This is probably not going to be a bedtime read-aloud. But for any kid interested in history, or anyone facing a cross-country journey, Wagons Ho! offers food for thought in a safe, friendly package.
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co. (@AlbertWhitman)
Publication Date: August 1, 2011
Source of Book: Cybils review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Barbara Eppenger
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).