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Alone: The Journey of the Boy Sims Paperback – September 23, 2008
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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About the Author
Alan K. Garinger is a past recipient of the Indiana Outstanding Young Educator and Indiana Outstanding Community Educator awards and is also the author of the Jeremiah Stokely series. His novel Torch in the Darkness: The Tale of a Boy Artist in the Renaissance, published in 2000 by Guild Press of Indiana, was a Young Hoosier Reader Award nominee.
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The book is set in 1833 and even though it has been a state since 1816, in many ways Indiana is still a wild frontier, especially in northern Indiana (the Ohio River was often the route that settlers took to Indiana in the early days and it forms the southern border of the state). Road crews are working on building Michigan Road - a "road" that will connect the Ohio River to Lake Michigan, a distance of more than 250 miles.
While somewhere in the vicinity of what will eventually be Logansport, Indiana a thirteen year old member of the crew is sent to Detroit all by himself for more ink to draw out the maps and keep track of the surveys that the crews were taking. This trip is well more than 200 miles one way and it is already late October...
I found the book to be interesting but loosely constructed. Sometimes the plot generated lots more questions than it answered and the book was desperately in need of lots and lots of maps. The author wanted to make the book a learning experience for Hoosier children but the number of people that Sims meets on his trip and their symbolic (or actual) significance to history got a bit tedious to me. The parade of runaway slaves, slave catchers, soldiers, Indians avoiding the soldiers and even a cameo by Johnny Appleseed (he was a real person) made the story move into the range of impossibility. If I were rating the book as an adult I would give it 3 stars out of 5.
But, this is not a book aimed at adults and my daughter thought it was very interesting. She would recite any number of things that Joshua Sims encountered on his trip as she rode home from school. She would give it 5 stars out of 5. This is a book that is designed to introduce frontier Indiana to school children and it does that quite well.
So, let's split the difference and call it 4 stars out of 5
Both of Joshua parents were dead; mother from illness and the heartbreak of having to leave her Virginia home because her husband wanted to go west to homestead. The father died after being gored by a bull. Before the father dies, he makes Joshua promise he'll save the homestead, which means he has to make money to finish the payments.
That's how Sims became part of a survey and road building crew in Indiana. He was a most resourceful lad and listened carefully to any advice people gave him of how to survive. The idea that a young teen could be sent on such a journey makes sense when we realized that then children took on adult duties much earlier.
The very interesting people that he met on his month-long journey tell us much about the times. He came across a group of runaway slaves, and then later met the bounty hunters after them. He met a mountain man whose cabin he used to be safe from an October ice storm. A fascinating, educated Native American man saved his life.
The story is also about the strength of each of these people and how Sims learned to like them as people, when against all the stereotypes, prejudices and preconceived fears he had about these groups: The Irish, runaway slaves, Native Americans, canal builders, and other loners.
Get your middle reader or young adult to put away something electronic and go back to 1833. Read the book yourself and you will have some most interesting conversations. These are the people who developed our country and made tremendous sacrifices.
I enjoyed this story very much. The hardship of 1830 was the focus-weather, food, homesteading and then farming that land, no easy way to get places, etc. The author is an educator and has received a Young Hoosier (Indiana) Reader nomination for an earlier book.
The glossary at the back was most helpful to better understand terms. I would have loved a more modern-day map so I could have traced his amazing journey.
Armchair Interviews says: This book could open up some interesting conversations with your children.