HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Jumping-Off Place
Author: Marian Hurd McNeely
Illustrator: William Siegel
Publisher: Dover Publications, reprinted 2017
Related website: http://www.sdshspress.com (publisher)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 10 – 14
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Many publishers and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion. Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
McNeely, Marian Hurd. The Jumping-Off Place (published in 1929 by Longmans Green and Co.; republished in 2008 by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 900 Governors Dr., Pierre, SD 57501). It is 1910, and Becky and Dick Linville, seventeen and fifteen respectively, and their younger siblings Phil and Joan, are orphans living in Plattville, WI, with their Uncle Jim, who has claimed a homestead on a quarter section in Tripp County, SD, and intends to move the family there, but dies before he can complete his plans. The youngsters decide to go ahead and “prove up” the land for fourteen months. Uncle Jim has already made a lot of preparations and even written down detailed instructions about what to do. Also, there are many helpful neighbors. However, the Linville kids find a mean family of squatters already living on their property who harass them and try to drive them off. Furthermore, the fall turns out to be scorchingly dry and dusty and the winter is extremely cold and blizzardy. And they’re running out of funds. Will they survive? Can they make a go of it? Or do they have to return to Plattville?
Warning—the Left does not like this book. One reviewer complained about “The negative portrayals of Native Americans.” Actually, there are no Indians in the story. Yes, some of the homesteaders made unkind statements about Native Americans, which is undoubtedly accurate from a historical viewpoint, but in her Afterword Jean L. S. Patrick noted, “Instead of adding to negative remarks about the American Indians and other races, Joan dares to voice another opinion.” Nevertheless, the objector feels that the book is “promoting false notions about the history of our country, treating Manifest Destiny as a natural right” and “never refers to homesteading as theft of native lands.” In other words, it doesn’t fit in with the Left’s “America is evil—blame America first” agenda. This critic also called it “a fantasy novel,” saying, “This isn’t the real prairie, this isn’t real homesteading. It might as well be set on Mars.” The truth is that this 1930 Newbery Honor Book was inspired by and based upon author Marian Hurd McNeely’s experiences during her own homesteading years in early 1900s South Dakota. How much more realistic could it get?
I liked this exciting tale of resilience and triumph over adversity. As to language issues, the euphemism “gee” occurs several times, and Dick says “ye gods” once. The children learn some important lessons. In addition to its accurate portrayal of homesteading with interesting insights into the lives of settlers on the Great Plains, The Jumping-Off Place is a charming and heart-warming story of family adventure which realistically shows the children’s struggle not to squabble as they realize their increased dependence on each other without their uncle in a harsh new land as well as their forming strong bonds within their far-flung community to win the support of their new neighbors, while still developing their own growing self-reliance. It will appeal to anyone who loves American history and inspiring stories of hard-working people struggling to make a home for themselves and would probably be most appreciated by older children and adults who enjoy historical fiction. I would agree with Melanie of “Old and New Berries” who wrote, “I wish I could give this book more tags to increase its visibility!” It is a good book.