Little Brown, 1988. 978-0-316-28612-1
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Jack and his faithful butler Praiseworthy set out to make it rich during the California gold rush in order to help Jack’s beloved Aunt Arabella keep their family home in Boston. The two stow away on the Lady Wilma after having their money stolen and with the captain’s kindness, are able to work off the price of the voyage from Boston to San Francisco. Along their journey, they meet a collection of strange characters from which they are able to learn the tricks of the gold mining trade and together the two endure the hardships and triumphs of the gold rush.
Why I picked it up: My fourth grade teacher read it to the class when we were studying California history.
Why I finished it: Historical fiction is often far from accessible to younger readers, but Newbery Award winner Fleischman manages to coax a fun, funny, and wild adventure out of a piece of American and California history. It enlivens and exaggerates the experiences of the men and women who braved months of travel over land and sea to see if they could seek their fortunes. Jack and Praiseworthy are resourceful, and use whatever shortcomings they may have to their advantage – the two need money, so Praiseworthy cuts the hair of miners for free and Jack pans for gold in the leftover hair; when Jack accidentally buys a bushel of neckties, Praiseworthy and Jack sell them to the miners when they hear a lady is going to be coming to the camp. I love the different personalities of the characters Jack and Praiseworthy meet during their mining days and enjoyed how the story was paced to make the reader always wondering and wanting more. I liked it the first time it was read to me, and as an older reader, it is still a wonderful adventure.
Other related materials: Patty Reed’s Doll: The Story of the Donner Party by Rachel K. Langarard; Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell; Blue Willow by Doris Gates; Bound for Oregon by Jean van Leeuwen; Brady by Jean Fritz; Turn Homeward, Hannalee by Patricia Beatty; Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan