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Next Spring an Oriole: A Stepping Stone Book    by Gloria Whelan & Pamela Johnson order for
Next Spring an Oriole
by Gloria Whelan
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2004 (1987)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Ten-year old Libby Mitchell is the narrator of Gloria Whelan's story of the Mitchell family, who journey many tedious miles in a pioneer wagon in the year 1837. Mama was brought up in a big house with pretty things, while Papa loved the out-of-doors and missed the trees, which were largely cut down in Virginia. As a surveyor, he hopes to gain employment in the Saginaw area of the State of Michigan.

Libby is excited about the move, though she will not miss tight shoes. Like Papa, she loves the trees and the orioles - birds that sing like no other. Papa purchases a deed from the land office in Detroit for eighty acres of property at one hundred dollars. The trek is difficult, with heavy rains. Horses Ned and Dan toil at pulling the wagon as they lift their hooves out of the slippery mud. As the Mitchells approach their destination, they set up camp to wait for the flooded river to recede. After crossing the following morning, Papa leaves Mama and Libby with the wagon, and rides Ned to search for the right trail. He returns with a Potawatomi.

The Indian family was travelling to Saginaw to sell skins, when their daughter became very ill with the measles. The Mitchells take the girl (named Taw cum e go qua - 'of the clan of the eagle') into their wagon and nurse her back to health. When they reach their land, they are happy to see the trees - oak, popple, elm, maple birch, hemlock, and pine 'that nearly covered the sky'. There's a pond and wildlife including heron, green frogs, ducklings, and deer. Papa begins to clear the land, chopping down trees - just enough to build a shelter. The Potawatomi, the LaBelle family (whom they met on the trail), and neighbors come to help the Mitchells plant crops and build a cabin.

Gloria Whelan was inspired to write Next Spring an Oriole based on a real family who helped nurse an Indian girl back to health. The delightful story is concise and informative, conveying friendship, family, and a sense of community. Pamela Johnson's exceptional pencil sketches in muted tones of grey are expressive of characters and scenery. The author wrote two follow-up stories about Libby - Night of the Full Moon and Shadow of the Wolf.

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