Sunday, July 8, 2007

Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge, Book 1

I began with Charlotte's Rose by A. E. Cannon, juvenile historical fiction which I had read a very positive review about years ago and noted for future reading, either for myself or my nieces. It is exactly the sort of book I read by the armful as a child. Charlotte and her father are Mormons who have left England in 1856 for the religious freedom and better economic opportunities of Utah. While Charlotte is the archetypal heroine in some ways - impulsive, quick tempered, imaginative, determined - however, she seems surprisingly young for her age given the era and the recent loss of her mother. For example, she does not seem to suspect that her animosity for family friend John, a boy her own age, is the precursor to adolescent romance (John seems more aware of it than she does).

As this group of Mormons travels towards Salt Lake City, a young woman dies in childbirth, and Charlotte surprises herself by offering to take care of the baby Rose while the grief-stricken husband Thomas Owen recovers. Cannon does well at describing the difficulties of carrying and tending to a baby as the group struggles along the trail. In particular, Charlotte, who still misses her mother and finds it hard to be taken seriously either by adults or peers (although she has a great relationship with her father), pours her emotions into baby Rose, and the pain of eventually returning Rose to Thomas was movingly depicted (in a different type of book, perhaps, Thomas would have proposed to Charlotte but this outcome was better). There is a strong sense of the difficulties and isolation of the long journey, as well as the physical obstacles encountered as members of this group push small carts containing all the personal belongings each was allowed to bring for the new life. It is made clear that this life in the New World does not offer an easy solution from the problems encountered in the Old World, and some are rightly apprehensive of what lies ahead. An interesting thread was Charlotte's longing to be able to read, contrasted also with her fear that she was losing her memories of her mother. Cannon delicately implies that reading and writing are the way to capture memories permanently (obviously, I agree), and a sorrowful young woman, part of the Mormon group, eventually promises to teach Charlotte how to read after they reach Salt Lake (if there were a sequel I predict this woman would eventually marry Charlotte's father).

I think my favorite frontier book continues to be On to Oregon by Honore Morrow, which was read to my fourth grade class by Miss Barnes many years ago, but this book gave a vivid picture of the exhausting struggle to Salt Lake and provided a sympathetic portrayal of Mormon settlers (not surprising, since the author is a descendant of Mormon pioneers herself), and I recommend it to an audience of 8 - 11.

1 comment:

Lesley said...

I've never heard of this book, but I agree, it sounds like something I would have liked as a girl. 1 down, 5 to go!