Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved pioneer stories. I read my copies of the Little House series until they were falling apart. I still have them. When my girls were little, we read Little House and many other pioneer stories, including the Kirsten series from American Girl and Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. When Girl 2 came home from a library sale with Journey Cake by Isabel McLennan McMeekin I was intrigued. When several years later I still hadn't read it, I thought it would be a good candidate for this reading challenge, and I wasn't disappointed. Journey Cake was 226 pages of pure delight!
The story revolves around the five children of the Shadrow family whose mother has recently died (alas) and whose father has gone ahead to the Kentucky wilderness to begin a new life for his family. When summer arrives, the children are to travel from their old home in North Carolina to meet their father in Kentucky, accompanied by their freed slave woman and her husband, who is still a slave. The year is 1793. They face toil, discouragement, and danger along the way, but they are also helped along by the good folks of Piney Settlement, where they partake in a pioneer wedding and meet Johnny Appleseed.
My favorite chapters of the book are those in which the Shadrows spend a few days at Piney Settlement, a cluster of three or four houses in the woods of Kentucky. It is here that we see the warm hospitality of wilderness folk and witness the women keeping house with ingenuity and creativity in primitive circumstances. I adore books in which housekeeping is a prominent feature, and I suppose that's why I enjoyed these chapters most. I am fascinated by housekeeping without modern conveniences, though I'm very glad to have them myself! It's interesting how everyone~men, women, and children alike~all assume the importance of tending to the home. Indeed, in the circumstances of Piney Settlement, it was absolutely necessary to the survival of the family.
Last week I wrote that while I liked The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, I didn't love it. It was just . . . lacking in magic and good writing. Journey Cake is much superior. The language, while being suitable for children, was much more sophisticated and lyrical. Compare these two paragraphs chosen randomly. The first is from The Penderwicks:
"Batty had never had a hero outside her own family. She had always figured that her father and Rosalind were enough heroes for anyone. But as she bounced crazily up and down on Skye's shoulder during that wild run to safety, a new hero came into her life. She watched Jeffrey work that bull as though trained from birth as a toreador. This way and that he went--darting, weaving, spinning, jumping--always heading away from Skye and Batty. And the bull followed, frantic to rid himself of this exasperating intruder."
Now from Journey Cake:
"Tim Smith shouted with laughter and apologized handsomely. Soon the children and Juba were laughing with him and bidding him an affectionate farewell. His rough brown hand lingered for a moment over Kate's and he made a pretty speech of thanks to her for mending his leggings. His tone was so warm and friendly that she blushed like a wild rose and looked up into his face admiringly with sweet and womanly candor. He was a handsome man, her heart told her, young and strong and kindly, a man who would make a girl a fine brave husband perhaps somehwere in a day not too far off. She would be sixteen before long. Most girls were married at that age . . . Maybe there would come a day."
Do you see what I mean? I'm becoming persuaded that this time period~Journey Cake was written in 1942~is a golden age of American children's literature. Johnny Tremain and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch are other examples that spring to mind. Though written for children, the authors of this period seem to think enough of children to write lovely, lyrical prose that tells the story clearly but expects something of the reader. So different than The Penderwicks.
So I heartily endorse this book. If you are looking for something new to add to your children's reading lists, or if you love children's literature as I do, you could not do better than to give Journey Cake a try.
Here's Mr. Linky. I'd love to know what you are reading!