Boy with a Pack by Stephen W. Meader



Summary from Amazon: Seventeen-year-old Bill Crawford refused to be licked by the “hard times” of 1837. Putting every cent he owned into a tin trunk full of “Yankee notions,” he set out afoot from New Hampshire for the Ohio country. His adventures on the road, as he crossed Vermont, York State, and Pennsylvania and moved southward through Ohio, furnished abundant tests of his courage and character. A crooked Vermont horse dealer who nearly murdered Bill for his trade-goods; a bullying Erie canal boat captain who hired him as a driver; and a hard-riding Virginia slave-catcher shadowing the Underground Railroad are vivid personalities in the story. Like other popular books by this author, Boy With A Pack is a horsy story. It is flavored with the racy pungency of stagecoaches and tavern stables, the brawl and bustle of the old Erie Canal, the excitement of backwoods trotting tracks, and the dusty plodding of westward migration in full tide a hundred years ago.

My review: I bought a used copy of this on recommendation from a book list for grades 6-8, and I found it to be a very enjoyable book to read. The author did a good job of taking me back into the early 1800s to get a taste of what life was like for children-who-are-nearly-adults at the time. It seemed surprising that a 17-year-old would venture off into the unknown by himself, walking most of the way from New Hampshire to Ohio with a pack on his back full of trinkets, lace, thread, needles, scissors, pocket knives — anything he thinks would sell out in the less settled part of the country. He meets mostly pleasant people, helps out with chores for the night to pay for his supper, and starts off again in the morning. He picks up a dog, a horse, and later, a colt along the way. He is hired by a canal boat captain to drive his horses up the canal, and the process of how canal boats worked was explained in nice detail. He also spent the night in an empty brick yard, the process of which was explained. The most interesting part of the book was the last third when he got involved with the underground railroad. The author did a nice job of explaining the importance of doing what was right regardless of the fear of getting caught. I found quite a bit of comfort knowing there were so many good people fighting against slavery even when it was dangerous.


Language Level: 2 (Gosh, shucks — just a few slang terms)
Rating: 5 ***** (Excellent)