Book review: Blazing West, The Journal of Augustus Pelletier, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804, by Kathryn Lasky

Lasky, Kathryn. Blazing West, The Journal of Augustus Pelletier, The Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804. (My Name is America series) Scholastic Inc., 2014. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-545-53084-2. 166 pages. Ages 8-14. P7Q5

Lasky Blazing WestThis is a historical fiction story of fourteen year old Augustus (Gus) Pelletier as he takes a stealth start in joining Lewis and Clark’s expedition west. There is a trace of Catholicism woven throughout. Gus learns valuable lessons from the Captains in handling conflict with the Native Americans. “I might have learned the most important lesson of my life so far today. Sometimes it pays to wait even if it is only three seconds.”  This is in response to the Captains’ uneasy hesitation in response to contentious response with unhappy trades with a Native American chief. The avoided command to fire prevented a skirmish. Sacagawea is portrayed as “stuck again somewhere between nations [….], forever caught between worlds, not quite alive and not quite dead.” York, Clark’s slave, is the only black member to accompany the expedition. This book fits well with the 4th grade Oregon studies unit. I intend to use it to teach creative writing by having students write their own journals as if they are joining the expedition, much like Gus Pelletier. Historical notes, pictures, drawings, and maps included.

February 2016 review by Penny McDermott.

[Editor’s note: Originally published in 2000 as a title in the My Name is America series, fictional stories set in key historical periods and told through journal entries, with supporting information about the actual time period and events. The current edition has been refreshed with a new cover and reissued in paperback. Although a formerly popular series, most of the books are formulaic, limiting the scope of even Newbery honor authors such as Kathryn Lasky.]

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