HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: A Fourth of July on the Plains
Author: Jean Van Leeuwen
Illustrator: Henri Sorensen
Publisher: Dial, 1997
ISBN-13: 978-0803717725 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0803717725 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0021484126 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0021484120 (Paperback)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Age Range: 6 and up
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Van Leeuwen, Jean. A Fourth of July on the Plains (published in 1997 by Dial). With descriptions of food, dress, and customs based on the memoirs by seven-year-old Jesse Applegate of an actual July Fourth celebration along the Oregon Trail in 1852, this picture book focuses on a boy named Jesse whose family is on a wagon train journey travelling westward from Indiana on the Oregon Trail to Oregon. When the train stops on a welcomed respite in the arduous trek to rest the weary cattle and hold a feast for July fourth, Jesse is left out of the preparations for this special day because is too young to join the men who go hunting, to help the women baking, and to work with the older girls sewing a flag. So he joins forces with his young chums to invent some lively, homemade musical accompaniment to the “speechifying” and feast as they use whistles, bells, and makeshift drums made out of tin pans and spoons for a parade. They surprise everyone with their marching band’s rousing rendition of “Yankee Doodle”
Author Jean Van Leeuwen, who also wrote Hannah of Fairfield, Hannah’s Helping Hands, Hannah’s Winter of Hope, and Trouble on Cabin Creek, shows how generations of Americans have paid tribute to the country’s founding. Illustrator Henri Sorensen’s hazy, yet realistic, pastel artwork in a combination of watercolor, colored pencils, and ink focus on strong portraits of the individuals as they work and celebrate together among their tents and covered wagons on the plains, thus capturing the pioneer experience. The book, which is written from a child’s voice and viewpoint, can be enjoyed by children on several levels. First, the characters clearly remembered why we celebrate the Fourth as they sewed a flag and gave speeches. Second, it shows how people can have a great time with just the basics of good food, comradeship, and an impromptu parade. Finally, the tale of pioneers heading west in a wagon train celebrating an even earlier era in America’s past promotes a sense of continuity.