Reviews for Perilous Journey of the Donner Party


The Book Report Reviews 1999 November-December
Reading this title is like watching a documentary unfold. Well researched and authentic as to detail, the book is a definite winner. Photos and diary entries create a complete package telling the tragic tale of these hopeful pioneers of the West. The author intrigues and excites the young reader with the party's adventure by using the words of one of the teenage survivors, Virginia Reed. This book would make an excellent read-aloud for any teacher to use with students. Note that the taboo topic of cannibalism is discussed, but not in a lurid fashion. Survival was the driving force near the end of the pioneers' terrible experience, and the horror of eating their dead is shown within that context. The last chapters relate what happened to each of the survivors following their rescue, information often neglected in this type of story. Appendix; index. Recommended. Sharon Godfrey, Young Adult Services Consultant, The Library Network, Michigan © 1999 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

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Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 April 1999
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 5^-8. The story of the Donner Party, the ill-fated wagon train that faced horrific circumstances on its way to California, is the subject of books, videos, and, now, Web sites. Calabro's offering is a fine addition to the Donner Party canon and particularly well suited to its young audience, for whom the story of hardship and survival will be nothing short of riveting. Calabro wisely chooses to tell her story primarily through the eyes of one of the young emigrants, 12-year-old Virginia Reed. Using a letter Reed wrote to her cousin (reprinted in its entirety at the book's conclusion) as well as other original documentation, Calabro painstakingly traces the Donner Party's journey, from its optimistic beginning in Springfield, Illinois, to its destination in California--after the group had endured death, starvation, and even cannabilism of the fallen. Though never resorting to sensationalism, the book does not skimp on any of the details as the Donner Party finds itself trapped in the Sierra Nevada, with both supplies and hope in short supply. Calabro's research is meticulous. The book comes alive with details about clothing, household items, and, always, the food, even the tiniest morsels. She moves the story into the present with her interviews of survivors' descendants. There is an extensive bibliography as well as a list for further reading, a chronology, and a roster of the dead. Numerous photographs and reproductions of art and artifacts are included. Sometimes a heavily researched book can be dry, but not this one. From the haunting cover with its lonely campfire to the recounting of a survivors' reunion, this is a page-turner. ((Reviewed April 1, 1999)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1999 #3
Virginia Reed was nearly thirteen in the fateful spring of 1846, when her family joined the families of George and Jacob Donner for their now notorious wagon train trek from Springfield, Illinois, to California. Marian Calabro focuses heavily on Virginia's viewpoint and experiences and makes extensive use of the diaries and letters of several of the travelers to personalize the remarkable tale of a trip gone tragically awry. As in David Lavender's Snowbound (rev. 9/96), the author here carefully reconstructs the deteriorating chain of events that had begun in luxury and optimism. Was there a root cause of the disaster? Lavender made a strong case for the bad advice about a shortcut promised in Lansford Hastings's book, which the Donners and Reeds were following. Calabro agrees that to a certain extent Hastings was a charlatan, but she provides a fuller account of the mistaken judgments and human dynamics that stranded the group in their deadly winter camp. The banishment of James Reed from the party for the death of John Snyder caused further suffering for Virginia and Patty Reed and their mother. After recounting the desperate days of cannibalism and rescue, the author adds three chapters detailing the rapid immigration to California and Oregon in the years after the Donner group's arrival, the further history of the survivors, and their twentieth-century legacy. A liberal assortment of historical photographs convey the setting and people. The richly detailed and interesting account concludes with the full text of Virginia's long 1847 letter to her cousin back in Springfield, a chronology, roster of the dead, bibliography, websites, and index (not seen). m.a.b. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 1999 April #1
A vivid yet even-handed account of the ill-fated Donner Party the California-bound wagon train that was forced by impassable snow to camp for the winter of 1846 47 on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, resorting to cannibalism when there was literally nothing else to eat. Calabro neither shrinks from nor sensationalizes this aspect of the story. Instead she places it in a carefully constructed context beginning with the start of the journey in Springfield, Illinois, on April 15, and chronicling each unfortunate decision along the way that ultimately led to the company's entrapment. Making good use of primary sources, especially the letters and memoirs of Virginia Reed, who turned 13 on the journey, the author tells of Virginia's excitement at having her own pony to ride west. However, she doesn't limit the story to Virginia's perspective, but skillfully profiles many members of the party, including Virginia's dynamic father, James, who strongly favored taking an unproven shortcut, and the intelligent and perceptive Tamsen Donner, who was firmly against it. The result is a combination of well-researched factual detail, a gripping narrative, strong characterizations, and a thoughtful analysis of the historical record. (b&w photos, chronology, further reading, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14) Copyright 1999 Kirkus Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2000 April #2
Calabro's (Operation Grizzly Bear) gripping account of the Donner party's infamous 1846 trek from Illinois to the largely unsettled territory of California chronicles the unfortunate choices, travel conditions and personality conflicts that conspired against the pioneers to leave them stranded in the mountains for the winter. Of the 90 emigrants, teenagers and children comprised almost half of the party and proved the majority of survivors. Calabro incorporates memoirs, diaries and letters to capture the sense of adventure and joy at the start of their journey and to provide insight into the acts of rancor, heroism, cruelty and kindness that surfaced throughout the expedition, mountain imprisonment and rescue. The author conveys much of the experience through the eyes of survivor Virginia Reed, who was 13 when the party headed west; young readers will be particularly moved by her powerful letter at the end of the ordeal, printed here in its entirety. Calabro responsibly tackles the cannibalism that made these settlers an object of horror in their own time and the subject of grisly jokes in our own. By placing the desperate act in context, the author shows the dire circumstances that forced survivors to resort to, in her words, "the last taboo." She includes an insightful epilogue on the survivors, and devotes a chapter to the party's enduring legacy and the ancestors, landmarks and monuments that stand as testimony to both their sacrifice and survival. Maps, pictures, drawings and etchings from museums as well as the author's own collection support the skillful exposition of this horrifying and tragic episode in the history of the West. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1999 April #2
Calabro's (Operation Grizzly Bear) gripping account of the Donner party's infamous 1846 trek from Illinois to the largely unsettled territory of California chronicles the unfortunate choices, travel conditions and personality conflicts that conspired against the pioneers to leave them stranded in the mountains for the winter. Of the 90 emigrants, teenagers and children comprised almost half of the party and proved the majority of survivors. Calabro incorporates memoirs, diaries and letters to capture the sense of adventure and joy at the start of their journey and to provide insight into the acts of rancor, heroism, cruelty and kindness that surfaced throughout the expedition, mountain imprisonment and rescue. The author conveys much of the experience through the eyes of survivor Virginia Reed, who was 13 when the party headed west; young readers will be particularly moved by her powerful letter at the end of the ordeal, printed here in its entirety. Calabro responsibly tackles the cannibalism that made these settlers an object of horror in their own time and the subject of grisly jokes in our own. By placing the desperate act in context, the author shows the dire circumstances that forced survivors to resort to, in her words, "the last taboo." She includes an insightful epilogue on the survivors, and devotes a chapter to the party's enduring legacy and the ancestors, landmarks and monuments that stand as testimony to both their sacrifice and survival. Maps, pictures, drawings and etchings from museums as well as the author's own collection support the skillful exposition of this horrifying and tragic episode in the history of the West. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 1999 Publishers Weekly Reviews

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School Library Journal Reviews 1999 May
Gr 6 Up-In the spring of 1846, George and Jacob Donner, James Reed, and their families left Illinois bound for the California territory. A series of accidents and bad decisions slowed their progress along the trail west. By the beginning of November, the group was snowed in at Truckee Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Ultimately, half of the party died, and in desperation, many of the remaining travelers were forced to eat the dead in order to survive. This well-written account of this ill-fated expedition draws heavily on the observations of 12-year-old Virginia Reed and pays particular attention to the plight of the children who were part of the band. By placing the cannibalism carefully in the context of the almost unending string of difficulties faced and mistakes made by the members of the party, Calabro is able to discuss the subject without sensationalizing it. A final chapter describes the later lives of some of the survivors. There is a lengthy bibliography, a list of Web sites, and a transcript of the letter that Virginia wrote to her cousin after she reached safety, chronicling the journey. Black-and-white photographs and reproductions appear throughout. This book is more detailed than David Lavender's Snowbound: The Tragic Story of the Donner Party (Holiday, 1996), which is for younger readers. Generations of Americans have been fascinated with this story, and young readers will no doubt find Calabro's title fascinating as well.-Elaine Fort Weischedel, Turner Free Library, Randolph, MA Copyright 1999 School Library Journal Reviews

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VOYA Reviews 2000 February
In 1846 Virginia Reed and her family left Springfield, Missouri, and joined a wagon train bound for California. What started out as a hopeful, exuberant crossing turned into a nightmare due to poor choices, terrible conditions, freezing weather, andlack of supplies. Virginia, almost thirteen at the time, was one of the survivors of this group, later known as the Donner party. Virginia's own recollections as well as other primary sources contribute to the vivid account, from the excitement ofthe early days to the controversy over the so-called shortcut around the Great Salt Lake to becoming snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Once the caravan became trapped in the mountains, members ate shoes, rugs, family pets, and, eventually,their dead companions-gruesome acts that made these travelers infamous. Calabro presents the cannibalistic aspects without sensationalism and also relating what happened to the survivors and their descendants. The layout is attractive; the photographs and maps are clear and informative, giving the reader visual imagesof the participants and circumstances of the expedition. Because Calabro covers the experiences of the children and teenagers who made up almost half of the Donner party, her chronicle will be of particular interest to its target audience. Thisquality nonfiction work will be enjoyed by history buffs and true adventure fans alike. Encourage students looking for a nonfiction assignment book to read it as well.-Alice F. Stern. [Editor's Note: See also the review of Limburg's Deceived: TheStory of the Donner Party in this issue.] Copyright 2000 Voya Reviews

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