Patty Reed’s Doll: The Story of the Donner Party by Rachel K. Laurgaard
After finishing the My Name is America: The Journal of Douglas Allen Deeds book, I’d said that I was done with books about the Donner Party. Then in the comments of that post a discussion developed about the challenges of presenting the Donner Party story in an appropriate way for children, and Amanda left a comment about Patty Reed’s Doll as a book that did that well, so of course I had to read it.
While the book isn’t as captivating as the best historical fiction, I really admire the way the author handled the story to allow it to be read to or by younger children. I’d be more aware of the ways that Native Americans are described to discuss that with my children than anything specifically regarding the Donner Party’s survival methods.
In fact, that in some ways is a weakness of the book – if you really were looking for something for children to read about the Donner Party, Patty Reed’s Doll never addresses what it is that makes the Donner Party so famous. Most of the book covers the events up to when they get trapped in the mountains, and only two or three chapters at the end address their time in the mountains and how they are rescued. In that sense, the book works much better simply as an account of what the western pioneers went through to get across the country, and the My Name Is America book did a better job of having an afterword that addressed some of the details (not graphically, but acknowledging why the Donner Party is notorious.)
The book itself, at least the version I read, is quite dated as far as font and formatting. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it to a more reluctant reader, because I think that sort of thing does matter if someone needs extra encouragement to read. Overall though, I’m glad I read it and think the author did an impressive job of both addressing a sensitive issue in an age-appropriate way, and at potentially sparking children’s interest in physical artifacts as a way of bringing the past to life. (Yes, my museum background is showing.)
In the winter of 1846, the Donner Party was stranded by heavy snows in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The pioneers endured bitter hardships, and many of them died. But some survived, including 8-year-old Patty Reed, a girl filled with dignity and determination in the face of mortal danger. This is her story, as told by Dolly, the wooden doll she kept hidden in her dress.
Title: Patty Reed’s Doll: The Story of the Donner Party
Author: Rachel K. Laurgaard
Category: Children’s Historical Fiction
My Rating: 3 Stars
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