CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 7 . . . . November 30, 2001
Several works both of historical fiction and nonfiction for young readers based on the Klondike Gold Rush have appeared on bookstore shelves recently. Barbara Greenwood has chosen a fiction/fact combination in Gold Rush Fever that has proven successful for her in previous work and is equally suited here. While it presents an absorbing adventure story of a young character swept along on the Klondike stampede, this book is loaded with thoroughly researched facts, an added dimension that makes it a fascinating resource.
The journal entries of 13-year-old Tim Olsen (a future reporter) are used to introduce six illustrated chapters that make up a fictional account of the trek with his brother Roy to the Klondike in 1897. The compelling narrative begins with the dramatic climb over treacherous Chilkoot Pass. The well-structured plot proceeds through the struggles of boat building, the tumultuous arrival in Dawson, hardships of summer and winter seasons on the diggings and the excitement of a gold strike. The characters are vivid and memorable. We cheer Tim's efforts to pack his faithful dog over the perilous trail, empathize with his feelings of inadequacy over his lack of boat building and mining skills, and rejoice at his determination to carry on in the face of all the challenges. At the end, Tim is the one who is sorry to be leaving. Roy presents strong conflict as his temper flares and his feelings of guilt add tension. Ned is a wise, older friend who helps Tim keep a positive outlook. There's even a romantic interest for Tim; young Flora with her own dreams for the future.
Extending each chapter, information is presented in one-to-two page chunks in an easy-to-read style with plenty of specific details and statistics. They cover most questions that might arise in readers' minds as they share Tim's adventures: how the gold rush began; how law and order was maintained by the Northwest Mounted Police; who were some of the actual personalities involved; how to pan for gold and stake a claim. Of special note is the double-page list of a grubstake: it's one thing to state that a year's supply of food was required before the NWMP would allow passage to Dawson, but quite another to see the actual list of food and other items, and to imagine the monumental task of packing it all on one's back up a staircase of ice! To help readers understand this concept more clearly, an activity (one of several throughout the book) is suggested to simulate that struggle.
The information sections are liberally illustrated with engaging sketches and labelled drawings by well-known artist Heather Collins, and actual archival photos. Greenwood's lengthy acknowledgements at the front attest to her thorough research of recent and historical publications. There is a detailed index and glossary, and a most reasonable price tag for this attractive book.
Gillian Richardson is a former teacher-librarian and a published children's writer of fiction and nonfiction, living in BC.
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