Reason for Reading: Read aloud to the 9yo as part of our history curriculum.
Comments: This is a fictionalized biography of the life of Charley Parkhurst , a renowned stagecoach driver who eventually settled in California to run a way station. Charley's greatest claim to fame however is that he is probably one of the first women to vote in the US and certainly, if not the first, then close to the first woman to vote in California in 1868 a full 52 years prior to any woman being allowed to vote in United States. If you haven't guessed already Charley was really Charlotte, a woman, this book tells her story and of how an orphaned infant became a respected man about town and stagecoach driver whose secret was never found out by the public until after death.
This was a joy to read. Not only was the subject matter utterly fascinating but the story is told in a well-written, exciting novel. Biographies aren't usually the place to find so much action, but Charley's story supplies a plot with plenty of it and she wasn't called "One-Eyed Charley" for nothing. She is a fully realized character that the reader cares for. Being a book for children, much time is spent on her childhood years in the orphanage and what drove her to do the things she later did in life. The dialogue is spot on with the ambiance of the setting and since I was reading aloud I couldn't help but speak the parts with a cowboy drawl.
The 9yo hung on to every word of this story. This book will appeal equally to boys and girls. Charlotte is no girly-girl and is tougher than nails. The 9yo was concerned for her future though as the book ends in the middle of her life and he hoped that she got to be a lady again some day. This, of course, brought on a final discussion of how she couldn't, in that day and age, have everything she wanted because she was a lady and she made the choices that made her happiest, but yes, it would have been nice if she could have been a lady and work with horses like a man at the same time.
I can't leave without discussing the illustrations. One word, (well actually two) Brian Selznick. This man can draw! Beautiful, detailed, black/white pencil drawings, one per chapter, enhance the text dramatically, especially seeing Charlotte as a young man. He has captured her essence perfectly. She looks like a young man and yet, around the eyes, since we know, we can tell she is a girl. I haven't read a book illustrated by Selznick yet (and I've read a few) that I didn't love. I think this man must know a book something special before he agrees to illustrate it.
Highly recommended! While different than the usual fair I think this would be enjoyed by girls who like horse books, and boys will love the ranch hand, cowboy action.