Johnny Appleseed, watch out. Apples to Oregon is a gung-ho pioneering tall tale ripe with adventure and humor. Although its subtitle is long-winded, it explains the book's premise precisely: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains. Author Deborah Hopkinson notes that she bases her story on fact: In 1847 a pioneer named Henderson Luelling . . . left Salem, Iowa, with his wife, Elizabeth, and eight children . . . and a wagon carrying seven hundred plants and young fruit trees. The Luellings did indeed make it to Oregon and prosper along with their trees, but Hopkinson spices up their saga with larger-than-life drama narrated in the wonderful voice of one of the pioneer daughters, whom she aptly gives the name of Delicious. Even the sleeves of this lively girl's pinafore look like juicy red apples, and she describes her family's quest by proclaiming: Daddy was ready for the most daring adventure in the history of fruit. Throughout, Hopkinson adopts over-the-top language to make readers laugh and to make it clear that she isn't sticking with a fact-by-fact accounting. For instance, when the family reaches the Platte River, Delicious says: It was wider than Texas, thicker than Momma's muskrat stew, and muddier than a cowboy's toenails. Perils pile up every step of the way to Oregon, and the children, rallied by Delicious, repeatedly save the day, despite hail storms, drought, steep red rock canyon and frost. Nancy Carpenter's foot-stomping illustrations provide the perfect accompaniment to the rollicking text. Daddy is a fiddling string bean of a man topped off by a 10-gallon hat, with his eight children always pitching in to save their wagonload of saplings.
Hopkinson and Carpenter previously teamed up on Fannie in the Kitchen, a fun, informative look at cooking pioneer Fannie Farmer. Now they've come up with another winning slice of history. Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.