Tag Archives: Oregon Trail

Wagons West! by Roy Gerrard

Bibliographic Information:

Gerrard, Roy (1996). Wagons west! New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Plot Description: This story of a journey on the Oregon Trail is told through verse and rhyme. After meeting a visitor with amazing stories of life 2,000 miles away out west, a young girl and her family set off with a wagon train to see the great West for themselves. Along the way they meet a number of hardships, such as inclement weather, difficult terrain, rivers to cross, food and water shortages, disease and bandits. They also befriend a tribe of Indians, whose help will be desperately needed along the way. It is all worthwhile, when they look upon the lush Willamette Valley of Oregon and make it their home. The narrator is still in Oregon 20 years later as she recounts the journey.

Quantitative Reading Level : Lexile Measure: N/A, ATOS Book Level: 5.6, Interest Level: Lower Grades (K-3)

Qualitative Reading Analysis: The story is told in a rhyme and rhythm, but the words used to make the necessary rhymes are at times odd and uncommon to everyday modern speech. The story is in prose containing complex sentence structure with several subordinate clauses and transition words. There is only one level of meaning and the themes are obvious. Organization is clear and is told in retrospect, but the story being told unfolds chronologically. Illustrations are a bit peculiar. The scenes are realistic, but the people are odd looking; very stout and wide as if they had been stretched horizontally. The illustrated scenes support and assist in understanding the time period, but the characters are not realistically rendered. Cultural knowledge of Westward migration in the 1800’s is helpful, but not necessary to understand the story. Readers will be unfamiliar with the experience of traveling via wagon train, but may have experience moving to an unknown place and some may even be familiar with making a dangerous journey to get to a new home.

Content Area: Reading, History (US History)

Content Area Standard: Reading Language Arts Standard Reading: Foundational Skills

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.4.4.b Read grade-level prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.

English Language Arts Standards: Writing

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

History-Social Science Standards for CA: Grades K-5

Historical Interpretation

  1. Students summarize the key events of the era they are studying and explain the historical contexts of those events.
  2. Students identify the human and physical characteristics of the places they are studying and explain how those features form the unique character of those places.
  3. Students identify and interpret the multiple causes and effects of historical events.
  4. Students conduct cost-benefit analyses of historical and current events

Curriculum Suggestions: Social Studies-This book would be a great piece in a unit on Westward Expansion and the journey west. Have students compare this and other accounts of life on the Oregon Trail. Students analyze why settlers began moving west. Language Arts-Analyze rhyme scheme in the story and have students write rhymes of their own. Students could also write fictional journal entries about how they imagine life on the Oregon Trail.

Supporting Digital Content: 


Personal Thoughts: I was not overly impressed with this book. It is a fine introduction text to the Oregon Trail, but the strange pictures and at times odd wording necessary for rhyme and rhythm threw me off. As a former Oregonian who grew up with yearly units on the Oregon Trail, I found the account of the wagon train journey less insightful than I hoped it would be.

High interest annotation: Come along on this perilous and exciting Oregon trail journey through rhyme.

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