Set in 1877, The Last Ride of Caleb O'Toole by Eric Pierpoint is a piece of historical fiction depicting the hardships and dangers faced by the O'Toole children as they travel from Great Bend, Kansas to the Bitterroot Mountains. There has been a cholera outbreak and they have lost both their parents. Caleb's mother makes him promise to take his sisters to go live with their aunt in Montana. The author researched carefully and included all the known landmarks and pitfalls that travelers would have faced back then. The problems that the children encounter on their trip never seem to end. If they aren't being chased by bad guys, then there is a buffalo stampede, or illness, or a flash flood. Every time things seem to calm down, another disaster occurs. It will tire you out just reading it. Can you imagine what it must have been like for families that actually lived through that long trip west?
I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction, survival stories, or want a more adventuresome tale of pioneers heading west than they would get from Little House on the Prairie. The perseverance and courage that Caleb, Julie, and Tilly show are amazing and the action keeps you reading as quickly as you can, so you can see how each situation is resolved. It's a great book to include in a social studies unit on westward expansion, the Oregon Trail, and pioneers.
The author's website includes a map of the route Caleb and his sisters follow. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley, but the book goes on sale September 3, 2013. There is a two-part video of Eric Pierpoint at a book signing in Los Angeles: Part 1 and Part 2.
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