The Adventures of Pearley Monroe by Marci Seither (Sawmill Press, 2013) is a fun but also informative novel for upper elementary school kids. Pearley Monroe, who is about twelve years old, is an African-American boy living in California in the latter half of the 19th century. The novel gives young readers a glimpse of his family life and the small town of Coloma, California, where he lives. Most of the story takes place in the summer of 1880.

Gold was first discovered in California at Coloma in the winter of 1848, but by 1880 the wild mining camp has transformed into a small town with hotels, small shops, a school and at least one church. The town has its own sheriff, its own doctor and its own volunteer fire department. Pearley Monroe lives with his family on an 80-acre farm near town.

The prologue shows the arrival of Pearley, his father, mother and brother in 1870. They are met by Pearley’s grandmother, Miss Nancy. She came to California with her husband and their master before California became a free state. She has been separated from her son for twenty years. He was three years old then and a slave.

Pearley loves to hear Miss Nancy tell about coming to California and becoming free. He is fascinated when his friend, another African-American, tells him how his “grandfolks” escaped slavery on the underground railroad and made their way to California. Seither weaves these interesting bits of history and others into her story with skill. She shows us human beings involved in historical events.

The events, though, are only background for the day-to-day life of a boy living in a town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Living in this place and time, Pearley has plenty of opportunity for small and large adventures–a swift river, a school spelling bee, stolen jewelry, a town fire, an angry bear. The adventures are often suspenseful. There are dangers involved, but they are not drawn out and children eventually receive help and support from adults. Pearley knows and interacts with people of different racial backgrounds. With one exception, and that character later apologizes, characters treat each other with respect.

The story of Pearley Monroe and his family is based on the life of a real boy and his family who lived and farmed in Coloma. Seither has included a number of photographs to help the young reader visualize the time period.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) Two of her published works for children are Marty’s Monster and Jessica Jacobs Did What?  Her latest work is I Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

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