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“Your Pa’s got itchy feet. He’s a traveling man. He’ll keep moving west till we run out of land, I reckon,” Ma. ―Pioneer Cat
by William Hooks
Nine-year-old Kate doesn’t want to go on a wagon train. She’s upset about leaving her best friend. She’s worried about how long the trip will be. And she’s afraid someone will discover her cat Snuggs, who is hiding in the wagon. Kate knows pets aren’t allowed on the wagon train, but she can’t bear the thought of leaving Snuggs behind.
This first-person narrative has just the right amount of action and suspense for younger readers. The dangers of the Oregon Trail are described in a kid-friendly manner that adds suspense without including scary details. Short chapters, black-and-white illustrations, and dialogue help make Pioneer Cat an entertaining and easy-to-read story. The fast-paced storyline teaches about the hardships of moving to the west.
Pioneer Cat has many positive elements. Rosie, Kate’s friend on the trail, exhibits the true qualities of a good friend and speaks in fun idioms such as, “looks like a choice bowl of beans to me.” Kate’s parents are shown in a positive light and clearly care about their children. At one point in the story, Kate could have easily allowed her parents to believe a falsehood, but she tells them the truth instead. Many will pick up Pioneer Cat because of the cute cat on the cover, but they will continue reading because of Kate’s adventures and the other loveable characters in the story.
- A buffalo herd stampedes and heads toward the wagon train. The men shoot at the herd to get the buffalo to change directions. “When the men fire, several buffalo in the front of the pack crumpled to the ground. More piled up behind them. But one huge wounded beast kept coming. He plowed into a wagon near ours. There was a sickening thud. The wagon rolled over.” Most of the buffalo change directions and no one is injured.
- Indians follow the wagon train and eventually want to trade with them. After the captain and the chief talk, one man shoots at the Indians. “Crack! A single gunshot rang out from one of our wagons. The pony one of the young Indians was riding stumbled and crashed to the ground. The rider went down with him.” The Indian is wounded, and the two groups work out their differences.
Drugs and Alcohol
- When the scouts go to help the injured Indian, someone yells, “For God’s sake, don’t shoot!”
- When the captain sees kittens in one of the wagons, he exclaims, “My god, what’s this?”
- Pa says grace at mealtimes. At one meal, Pa prays, “Dear Lord, give us a good journey and safekeeping. And bring us finally to Oregon if it be thy will.”
- Kate’s parents can’t find her. When she appears, Pa says, “Thank the Lord.”
- When two children are almost swept away in the river, someone says, “Thank God, you’re all right!”