Pragmatic Mom

January 30, 2010

Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells

If you hear Rosemary Wells and think Max and Ruby , Yoko and Friends or McDuff, you have the right author.  She is an author, like Cynthia Rylant, who has incredible range.  Mary on Horseback:  Three Mountain Stories is a biography of Mary Breckenridge, a nurse during World War I, who provided nursing and medical services to the poor in the Appalachia after her two children and two husbands die.   Her nurses on horseback were the foundation of the Frontier Nursing Service that she created.

At just 53 pages and comprised of 5 very short chapters, Mary on Horseback is series of spare but powerful stories that graphically depict the hardships of the poor in Appalachia. Lesser known than Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, Mary Breckenridge’s autobiography moved Rosemary Wells so much that she visited Wendover and talked to nurses at the Frontier Nursing Service.  Wells felt that her story should be shared with young people and wrote this story as a result.

I asked my 4th grader what she thought of the book; I had forgotten that she had read it in 2nd grade.  She agreed that while the reading level of the book is for Newly Independent Readers, the content is more suitable for 4th grade.  I think it’s important to provide strong role models for girls so I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Winner of the Christopher Award, A Booklist Editors’ Choice Book, and A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

If your child likes this book, try The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill.  It’s about another woman who courageously goes to the wilds of Alaska to teach in a one-room school house and ends up changing the children’s lives.   The reading level is similar but the content is more interesting than “Grapes of Wrath” graphic because her students are rugged and hardy and completely capable of living off the land.  This is also historical fiction.

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