McKernan, Victoria. 2009. THE DEVIL’S PAINTBOX. New York: Knopf. ISBN 9780375837500 [Suggested Grade Levels 9- 12]
Fifteen-year-old Aiden and his thirteen-year-old sister, Maddy are orphaned and starving on their Kansas homestead when Aiden indentures himself to work in the logging camps of the Pacific Northwest. Joining a wagon train, Aiden and Maddy work their way across the continent towards the promise of a new start in the mountains of Washington. Braving the storms, stampedes, death, and accidents, both Aiden and Maddy find their place in the tight social network of the wagon train. Yet, it is the unexpected death of Maddy that forces Aiden to finally grow into the young man who ultimately deals with the injustices that he faces, as well as the emotional and physical challenges that await him.
McKernan has written an expansive western that captures the essence of the pioneer spirit with a well-developed character. With careful attention to detail and historical accuracy, the reader will be caught up in the expanse of the story and the intimacy of knowing Aiden as he grows into a man.
The westward expansion is a unique time in history that entices the young reader to delve deeper into the motivations and purposes of these pioneers. Have readers research the varying trails, comparing topography, hazards, and distances traveled. For older readers, researching the Donner Party is one possibility.
Other stories about the westward movement:
Crew, Linda. A HEART FOR ANY FATE: WESTWARD TO OREGON, 1845. ISBN 9781932010268
Spooner, Michael. DANIEL’S WALK. ISBN 9780805067507
Wolf, Alan. NEW FOUND LAND: LEWIS AND CLARK’S VOYAGER OF DISCOVERY. ISBN 9781606860977
By Christine J. Rayl