Thursday, February 18, 2010

Picture Book Endings Day 4: Historical Fiction

Today, a look at the finish of Nine for California, by Sonia Levitin.

It begins: “Pa sent a letter by stage. “Come to California, my dears. I am lonely without you. In the letter was a big bank note, all the money Pa had in the world. He had worked in the gold fields for a whole year. “What good is gold,” Pa wrote, “without my family.”

Young Amanda then relates the rough 21 day journey. The stagecoach is filled with her family of six, plus three grumpy grownups, so she has to sit on the sack her mama packed with "everything we'll need." Throughout the trip Amanda gets bored but adventure arrives in the form of Indians, a buffalo stampede, and a robbery. Mama uses up her bag of tricks to calm the kids (and even ward off buffalo). By the time the family arrives in California and reunites with Pa, the adult passengers have come to appreciate Mama's resourcefulness.

The ending: “When we were settled, Ma and I stuffed the sack with goose feathers. On winter nights we would lie on it, all five of us, sometimes Mama too, rocking and swaying, pretending we were in the stagecoach bound for California again.”

In this twist, Amanda, her siblings and even her ma are nostalgic for the trip that was at turns monotonous, scary and uncomfortable. The sack, which played a key role from the beginning of the story, becomes a souvenir for the entire trip. Instead of sitting on it, Amanda can now lie on it, daydreamy, recalling the bumpy movement and her adventures. The reader is left with a heartening, cozy scene that is set in the past, but repeats itself (on winter nights we would lie on it).

The last sentence (vivid and as rhythmic as the motion it describes) speaks of the importance of family (hinted at from Pa’s loneliness) , the human need for adventure, and a means of holding on to happy moments when they pass.

Sonia Levitin graciously provided me with this insight into the ending of the book:

"The idea came from an early pioneer diary I read, the diary of Mary Walker, an early Oregon pioneer. Many years after the trek she spoke of how it was to be rocked to sleep in the covered wagon. She became somewhat demented in her old age and used to sit on her old saddle, rocking and swaying...and remembering."

Have you been moved by the endings of other historical fiction pbs? How does the author create the emotion?

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