From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 3—Through a series of letters between a brother and sister, Kay examines changes in mail delivery during the time period 1851-1870. Transport methods include wagon, stagecoach, boat, camel, horseback (Pony Express), telegraph, and train. The rhymed text flows well. "Orphans wanted,/Riders, rough./Risk of death daily,/Must be tough./Ponies purchased,/Mailbags, thin./Special saddles./Spurs—dig in!'" While the brief phrases provide the larger historical context, the illustrations, rendered in pencil, ink, gouache, and watercolor, are crucial in developing the personal drama of the siblings and their families. The browns, oranges, and yellows of the color palette effectively reflect the primarily Western setting. Stylized reproductions of the letters and a telegram are incorporated into the pictures. The story is about the desire to communicate across long distances; appropriately, each pictorial spread is full of forward movement. Varying cultures are represented. The brother is a farmer in California; his sister marries a Pennsylvania miner. As their missives traverse the country, readers see soldiers, Native Americans, cowboys, construction workers, and other townspeople along the route. An author's note offers more detail about the Pony Express itself and its historical context. A list of "notable dates" helps readers clearly see the progression outlined in the text. Libraries will want to accept delivery of this attractive and informative package.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
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An exchange of notes spanning 20 years between fictional siblings living a continent apart links highlights in what amounts to a capsule history of long-distance mail service in this country. Despite its short historical duration, the Pony Express takes center stage, with scenes of ponies and riders—both often suspended in midair—speeding past various hazards through broad, golden-brown western landscapes. Kay catches a sense of the Pony Express’ urgency in the terse accompanying rhymes: “Orphans wanted, / Riders, rough. / Risk death daily, / Must be tough.” Telegraph and train soon spell the end of that particular service, though, and a final view of a Native American contemplating from horseback an abandoned station house strikes an elegiac note. Readers will come away understanding the era’s need for quicker delivery of news and mail, so the broad angle of this overview provides value as preparation for any of the plethora of more detailed accounts of the Pony Express’ brief ride. Grades 2-4. --John Peters