My Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction book for this month is the 2014 winner, Bo At Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill and illustrated by LeUyen Pham.
Hill’s novel portrays a year in the life of Bo, a little girl in the 1920s Alaska. Bo was abandoned by her mother, and was taken in by a couple of gold miners who team up to raise her. The unusual family settled in a mining camp next to an Eskimo village, and the villagers and other miners became Bo’s extended family.
Bo at Ballard Creek is set in a time period and place I’ve never read about before. Any Alaskan historical fiction I’ve read has been about rural teachers or dog sled dogs. But this is about the gold miners after the heyday of the late 1890s Klondike Gold Rush. According to Hill’s website, many of these miners had found they liked Alaska and decided to stay, some marrying Eskimo or Indian women.
Hill, who lives in Alaska, has many miners in her family ancestry, and lived in a mining camp when she was the same age as Bo, said members of her family and other people she knew inspired many of the characters.
The story is also very descriptive about the mining process. I learned the miners dug while the ground was frozen so the shafts wouldn’t collapse, but they used steam to warm up the soil enough to actually dig it out of the shaft.
Also, the characters in the book preferred Alaska in winter, versus the summer, because traveling was so much easier in the winter. In the summer the ground was swampy, and people relied on boats to get around. But in the winter, when everything was frozen, people travelled by foot or dog sled much quicker. Of course, now, many travel in Alaska by plane. But in Bo at Ballard Creek, Bo and the villagers were excited to witness the first airplane land at their village.
It’s cool to see how Bo and the villagers may be in the wilderness, but they stay as current as they can. For example, everyone subscribed to at least one magazine, and they traded them back and forth so everyone could read them. They also loved music and played the latest records on their Victrolas. And many of the females wore their hair in the short styles of the 20s.
The blurb on the back of the hardback is from the Horn Book review and compares Bo at Ballard Creek to Little House in the Big Woods. It’s an apt comparison. Like Little House, Bo at Ballard Creek has lots of description of Bo’s daily life and the people she visits in and around the village. It’s also a quiet story. Although there are some sad and serious events, Hill describes them gently. This is not an action adventure or edgy book. It’s refreshing to see a major publisher (Henry Holt) offer a “quiet” book.
Bo at Ballard Creek is unusual to current books in another way, yet still similar to Little House in the Big Woods. Both books are considered middle grade books and are targeted to fourth through sixth graders, yet both protagonists, Bo and Laura, are very young, like about four years old.
Generally protagonists would be close to, or just a little older than the targeted readers. However, four-year-olds wouldn’t be able to read this book, nor would they understand many of the descriptions. Yet, it works really well to see this story through a four-year-old’s eyes. We see the innocence, the love, and the joys/frustrations in Bo’s daily life that we might not see if she were 11-years-old.
For more information about Kirkpatrick Hill and Bo at Ballard Creek, see Hill’s website.
Also, here is a link to more info about the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge.
Join me Sept. 30, for my next challenge book: Charley Skedaddle by Patricia Beatty, the 1988 award winner.
Have you read Bo at Ballard Creek? What do you know about post-gold rush Alaska? Do you know any gold miners? Do you prefer quiet books or adventure/edgy books? Why?