Bo at Ballard Creek
by Kirkpatrick Hill; illus. by LeUyen Pham
Primary, Intermediate Holt 279 pp.
6/13 978-0-8050-9351-3 $15.99 g
The disarmingly forthright tone is set right at the start of this chapter book when we meet Bo, a little girl who lives with her papas (yes, that’s plural) in a small, almost-worked-out gold-rush town in 1920s Alaska. Papa Jack and Papa Arvid explain to Bo that her mother was Mean Millie, a “good-time girl” who unceremoniously dropped baby Bo into Arvid’s arms and left town on the riverboat. “Sometimes mamas don’t stick around, you know. Just walk off.” The explanation satisfies Bo and suits the cheerful and uncomplicated nature of the episodic story, which follows Bo through the course of a year. Like Little House in the Big Woods but with a considerably larger cast (miners, Eskimos, old-timers, good-time girls), the small events (a birthday party, a visiting plane) and crises (a grizzly, pneumonia) keep the story involving even while it lacks much of a through-line beyond the seasons. The frequent use of simple pen-and-ink drawings further the Wilder resemblance, but Pham’s are more sophisticated, befitting the era and situations. Hill’s book is a little more rambunctious, but in the end it shares something else with Laura: with the gold now gone, Bo and her papas (and a new adopted little brother) head out for better prospects — and perhaps another book?
From the May/June 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.