by Ann Turner. (Macmillan 1989 ISBN 0027895114. Paperback.) Novel. Grades 3+.
This novel is the story of a family: each member a distinct and interesting personality, set in the time just after the Civil War, and the Westward Movement as seen through their eyes and their experiences. It ties in with the picture book Araminta's Paint Box. Comparing information gained from each book can be a useful direction and can lead to many research projects and discussions. The books take place in the same century and concern the move to the west. Araminta's family has a different destination and a different purpose than the family in this novel, but both are representative of the movement. Taking a look at how each family traveled and the luxuries and necessities they took with them is just one point of comparison.
In Grasshopper Summer Sam White likes living in Kentucky with his grandparents. He loves the big old house, the comfort and his grandmother's peach pies. He is appalled when his father decides to move west. Sam idolizes his grandfather, the former Colonel, who thinks of the Civil War as a time of gallantry and honor, even if their side did lose, even if he did lose a precious chunk of bottom land which has been given to ex-slaves. His brother Billy is teaching an ex-slave, Harold, to read, much to Sam's disgust. Billy hates the way his grandfather blows a bugle for meals. He hates the rules and safety here that Sam loves. Billy's looking forward to the move. His father, Walter, chafes at living with his father-in-law. The Civil War held no glory for him. He wants to forget the bloodshed and start fresh, homesteading in Dakota Territory. Sam's mother, Ellen, loves the old homestead, but a woman goes where her husband goes, at least they did in that day, and, after shedding many tears, she climbs onto the covered wagon with the rest of her family.
The trip west is not easy: crossing the Mississippi is perilous and results in the drowning of a young colt belonging to another family. That drowning haunts the boys. It makes the journey seem even more ominous. Joining up with other wagons leads to some sociability and the women and children revel in that. One family, the Grants, will settle near them in Dakota territory, although neither family knows that at the time of first meeting.
Their section of land in Dakota Territory is reached at last and the family works together to build the sod house, even the mother, Ellen. Her husband is taken aback to see his lady-like wife working by his side digging and placing the sod bricks. When it is done, much to their surprise, everyone loves the sod house and there is much hope. There are even neighbors, the Grants, only two miles off. The corn crop is planted and doing well and then come the grasshoppers.
Turner's account of the awfulness of the grasshopper plague is enough to set your skin crawling and the destruction they leave behind is devastating. Somehow the White family pulls together enough money and gumption to try again, but not so the Grant family who pull up stakes and head for home. We leave the Whites with a crop of winter wheat laid in which won't draw grasshoppers and we hope with them for better years on the prairie.
The book is not difficult to read and should be within the reach of most fourth graders. There is so much to work with within these 166 pages that it could launch a whole year of study and further reading or you could just savor this one novel together.
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