Reviews for Bo at Ballard Creek

Booklist Reviews 2013 April #2
When Bo was just a newborn, two strong, tenderhearted gold miners saved her from life in an orphanage and brought her to Ballard Creek, a gold-mining camp and Eskimo village along the Koyukuk River in Alaska. This novel, set in the late 1920s after the big Alaskan gold rushes, is more a slice of life than a plot-driven narrative, as five-year-old Bo visits her kind neighbors--from Eskimo Big Annie to Milo, who runs the Roadhouse--and pitches in with the never-ending workload, including the tedious task of sluicing pay dirt for gold. Her papas--Jack, the camp cook, and Arvid, a blacksmith--are supportive of tomboy Bo, whose adventures range from riding in a dog sled to being chased by a bear to watching a biplane land. It's the simple things that thrill, and Hill, born and raised in a gold-mining Alaskan community herself, infuses her text with engaging small details, while Pham's exuberant illustrations add playfulness to the story. Although some readers may wish for a more continuous story, others, particularly fans of the classic Little House books, will soak in the atmospheric look at a particular time and place. A great choice for classroom units on the gold rush. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2013 July
An unusual Alaska childhood

Fiction writers are often exasperated by questions from readers who want to know whether their books’ characters and events are based on real life. Not so with Kirkpatrick Hill.

Instead, she told BookPage in an interview from her Fairbanks, Alaska, home, “Everything in the book is pretty much true. Think of me as a Grandma Moses type: I’m just recapturing things.”

In her eighth novel for young readers, Bo at Ballard Creek, Hill sends us back to the 1920s, to a post-gold rush town called Ballard Creek that sits on the Koyukuk River. She herself lived at a mining camp as a child in the 1940s—she comes from a family of mining engineers—and says she was “just like Bo.”

Readers who grew up in suburbs or cities—really, anywhere that doesn’t have Alaska’s snow and ice and bouts of 24-hour daylight—may find it hard to picture living in a 1920s mining town intertwined with an Eskimo village, a place where everyone has a broom on the front stoop (it’s rude not to sweep snow off your boots before you go inside); kids are told not to run in the woods because a bear might chase them; and only one resident has ever laid eyes on an airplane.

But thanks to Hill’s vivid writing (and her palpable fondness for her home state), plus LeUyen Pham’s artful, adorable illustrations, the places and people of Bo’s world soon feel familiar. Especially because, despite being set in a seemingly exotic place, Hill’s story encompasses universal themes—like the fact that families don’t require members to be blood relations.

Bo’s own family is described in the first chapter: “Bo had two fathers and no mothers, and after she got the fathers, she got a brother, too. But not in the usual way.”

It’s a promising, tantalizing start, and Hill has crafted an entertaining and interesting backstory: Bo’s fathers both came to Alaska in the gold rush of 1897, in search of work and a way to get some distance from sadness. Arvid, a Swede, had recently lost his mother, and Jack, an African American, was grieving the death of his fiancée. The two big, strong men became friends and workmates, and when Bo’s mother (a “good-time girl” known as Mean Millie) thrust her baby at them and demanded they take her to a local orphanage, Arvid and Jack couldn’t bear to leave her there. So they took her home and, with help from their miner and Eskimo neighbors, they became Bo’s family.

Hill says the blend of races and cultures in Bo at Ballard Creek jives with her own experiences, as does Bo’s unofficial adoption. She says, “It happened a lot. It was a ubiquitous thing, not just men of course. . . . And also, within the Indian culture, it was very common for people to give up their kids. Kids would live right in the same village with their natural parents and have two sets of relatives. And you see, Jack and Arvid had no legal claim to Bo at all, because they never would’ve had to.”

It’s fascinating stuff, not least because it’s true. That’s very important to Hill, who says her urge to commit Alaska—and its singular history, dramatic terrain and diverse people—to the printed page was prompted by years of frustration with the way the state was depicted in books and other media. As a mother of six, and during her 30-plus years as an elementary school teacher, Hill encountered many ill-informed books about her state. “I would read Alaska books to my children, and they were all totally bogus because the authors weren’t from Alaska. And Jack London . . . it was as bogus as you could get!” So, she decided she’d write about Alaska herself.

Her first book, Toughboy and Sister, was published in 1990, when Hill was in her early 50s (if you’re wondering, Grandma Moses began painting in her 70s). She explains, “I’d gotten seriously broke and needed a new life plan, so I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just send this off and get some money.’ I had no clue how anything worked at all!” Then, she says, “By the sheerest good luck, it fell into the right hands. A dear, lovely person got it out of the slush pile and wrote me a letter. . . . It never should’ve happened. You just don’t do things like that!”

But Hill did, and it worked—and she’s been writing ever since. While her protagonists are a range of ages, and her time periods are both historic and contemporary, all of her books are set in her beloved home state and make real the traditions and trials, foods and fun experienced by the people who have lived there, from sliding down a riverbank, to making ice cream out of decidedly non-dairy ingredients, to hearing the click-clacks of a telegraph machine.

Like all of Hill’s novels, Bo at Ballard Creek is a fine mix of happiness and hard truths, reverence for history and excitement about innovation. It’s enough to make readers want to visit Alaska to see it for themselves. Though perhaps, for those who are winter-precipitation-averse, you might want to check the forecast first: When she spoke with BookPage in May, Hill realized that day was her “last ticket for the ice pool. . . . I guessed on days the ice would go out. But the weather’s gone mad, and we’re still experiencing winter when normally there would be leaves on the trees. I’m looking out my window at snow, deep snow.”

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Fall
The disarmingly forthright tone is set right at the start of this book when we meet Bo, a little girl who lives with her papas (yes, that's plural) in a small gold-rush town in 1920s Alaska. Like Little House in the Big Woods but with a considerably larger cast (miners, Eskimos, old-timers, good-time girls), small events and crises keep the story involving.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2013 #3
The disarmingly forthright tone is set right at the start of this chapter book when we meet Bo, a little girl who lives with her papas (yes, that's plural) in a small, almost-worked-out gold-rush town in 1920s Alaska. Papa Jack and Papa Arvid explain to Bo that her mother was Mean Millie, a "good-time girl" who unceremoniously dropped baby Bo into Arvid's arms and left town on the riverboat. "Sometimes mamas don't stick around, you know. Just walk off." The explanation satisfies Bo and suits the cheerful and uncomplicated nature of the episodic story, which follows Bo through the course of a year. Like Little House in the Big Woods but with a considerably larger cast (miners, Eskimos, old-timers, good-time girls), the small events (a birthday party, a visiting plane) and crises (a grizzly, pneumonia) keep the story involving even while it lacks much of a through-line beyond the seasons. The frequent use of simple pen-and-ink drawings further the Wilder resemblance, but Pham's are more sophisticated, befitting the era and situations. Hill's book is a little more rambunctious, but in the end it shares something else with Laura: with the gold now gone, Bo and her papas (and a new adopted little brother) head out for better prospects -- and perhaps another book? roger sutton

Kirkus Reviews 2013 April #2
A warm tale set in an Alaskan gold-mining town in 1929-30. Bo, a 5-year-old girl, was adopted as a newborn by two gruff but tenderhearted blacksmiths who've toiled in the mining camps of the Yukon for years. These unlikely fathers smoke a bit and swear a bit, but they love Bo with all their hearts. Theirs is an extraordinarily generous, solicitous, close-knit community, comprised of indigenous neighbors and workers from around the world. Events unfold at a leisurely pace in this narrative that's enriched by authentic details that make the time and place come alive. Readers discover that life in a mining town means surviving brutal winters, handling day-to-day chores in all seasons while still having fun, doing backbreaking labor, and finally, actually extracting the gold from the dirt. (Readers will learn more than they probably ever needed to know about how this is accomplished.) Life in a remote backwater also entails high excitement, such as the townspeople's first-ever sighting of an airplane and bulldozer. Warmth and love pervade this novel, an Alaskan version of the Little House books, and characters are well-drawn. Some realistically sad and frightening events occur, but the novel ends on a happy, though wistful, note. Final art was not seen, though samples are charming and reinforce the Little House feel. Some may find this overly sweet, but Bo is an endearing Pollyanna in a parka. (Historical fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection Reviews 2013 November/December
Bo, an orphan, is being raised by two miners in an Alaskan Eskimo village. At age five, she helps out at the cook shack and visits with people in the village. Each chapter details a part of her exciting and adventurous life, but the chapters do not connect together. The story and accompanying illustrations depict customs and routines that would have occurred in 1920s Alaska. The author's own experience growing up in a gold-mining community is obvious, especially in the portrayal of the characters. Readers who enjoy the Little House series will appreciate the author's writing style and enjoy Bo's story. Lisa Wright, Media Coordinator, West Yadkin Elementary, Hamptonville, North Carolina [Editor's Note: Available in e-book format.] RECOMMENDED Copyright 2012 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

School Library Journal Reviews 2013 October

Gr 4-7--In 1924, Arvid and Jack, two blacksmiths who work in mining communities in the Alaska territory, adopt an abandoned baby girl. They name her Bo, and, when readers meet her, they will be immediately grabbed by her infectious personality. One moment she helps Jack, who becomes a camp cook, make doughnuts, and the next minute she runs in a three-legged race. When a speechless boy shows up in the camp, five-year-old Bo's compassion helps him heal. Each experience Bo has, including her frightening encounter with a bear, plays out naturally. Pham's joyful illustrations match the overall exuberant mood of the story. Sweeping generalizations like "Eskimos are just foolish over babies" and "All the Eskimos made up songs-funny songs or sad or happy," coupled with some strong language, are unfortunate. Readers can easily picture the Alaskan mining town where Bo and her family live, though they might wish for a map to give them a sense of the vast land and the distance between the towns mentioned and documentation about the Native group(s) living in the territory during the early part of the 20th century. The endearing qualities of Bo, her fathers, and the other characters are what make this story.--Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY

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