Reading the West 3-1-10 |

Reading the West 3-1-10

Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.

When seventh-grader Hannah Taylor, her best friend Jackie Montalvo, and her older brother Nick begin to move social studies teacher Mr. Barrington’s trunk from its place in the classroom into a closet, well … things begin to spiral out of control. First there is a small hole in the trunk and sand starts oozing out. Hannah pokes a finger in the spot to keep the sand in, and Jackie quickly places tape over it. But the sand is not to be stopped and bursts out spilling onto the floor.

These three students, who have had experiences with Mr. Barrington’s trunk before, quickly realize things are about to change and they aren’t certain what to expect. It probably wasn’t a trip back to the 1680s and a French ship La Belle. But sure enough that is where the three youngsters find themselves. Nick must learn to climb the rigging while the girls must take care of chores on the ship.

Here they encounter a bad-tempered captain and bad-tempered seas making it a rough journey on the Gulf of Mexico. Just when it appears they might be able to return to their modern lives, the three youngsters are sent on yet another excursion, this time to the settlement of Sieur de Rene-Robert Cavelier La Salle, established in 1684 at Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast.

Traveling with the trunk, the students have new instructions to find several artifacts: arrows, gold coins and the like. They know from past experience once they have the objects they are likely to be transported back home. But before they can locate all of them, they become friends with the Talon family. Well, perhaps the girls are friends, Nick just puts up with the young, rather obnoxious Talon boys.

There is plenty of action throughout this book for middle-grade readers, and more important, plenty to learn about life in 1680s Texas, the LaSalle expedition, and history in general.

Author Melodie Cuate has transported Hannah, Jackie and Nick via Mr. Barrington’s trunk to other important locations and periods in Texas history in previous books: “Journey to the Alamo,” “Journey to San Jacinto,” “Journey to Gonzales,” and “Journey to Goliad.”

This is a fun series published by Texas Tech University Press that is no doubt useful for Texas teachers in presenting history to their students in a fun, yet informative way. It is also good reading for those of us who may not be as familiar with Texas history, or who just want to escape with a good story once in a while. And while targeted to younger readers, I can assure you it kept me turning the pages.