Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail

Book cover for Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland TrailDear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail
By Elvira Woodruff
Illustrated by Beth Peck
Knopf Books for Young Readers, February 1998
Ages 8-14
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
978-0780780606 school/library binding
978-0679885580 paperback
Teacher activities

Dear Levi,
I surely hated leaving you behind in Pennsylvania, but you know I couldn’t pass up the chance to go out to Oregon to see about Pa’s claim…Once you’re old enough, Levi, you can come, too. Till then, mind Miss Amelia, and don’t go chasing after her chickens too much…

So writes twelve-year-old Austin Ives to his brother, Levi. It’s 1851 and Austin is setting off on a wagon train across the Overland Trail. Week by week, and letter by letter, Austin tells the story of his harrowing trip west, across the miles of dusty roads and surging river waters – straight into Indian territory! It’s a difficult journey and not all of his new friends will survive. But it’s a trip Austin’s determined to make – for at the end lies the promise of a bright new life.

Book cover for Dear Austin: Letters from the Underground Railroad

Don’t miss the sequel:
Dear Austin: Letters from the Underground Railroad

Praise for Dear Levi:
“Twelve-year-old orphan Austin sets out with the Morrisons from Pennsylvania to the Oregon Territory to claim his dead pa’s land. His younger brother, Levi, stays behind. In his letters Austin details the days with the wagon train, filled with commonplace events and predictable problems as well as hazardous escapades that keep the adrenaline pumping, accidents, disease, death, Indian trouble, storms, and fights among the various families. He shares the friendships he makes with other youngsters and with adults. Although the adventures (both positive and negative) are similar to those in other books about wagon train travel, the epistolary format and character development offer solid reading. A clear map of the Overland Trail in 1851 begins the book and double page spread pencil drawings appear throughout. Deborah Abbott.”—Booklist

“In 1851, twelve year old orphan Austin Ives joins a wagon train bound for Oregon Territory and writes letters to his younger brother, Levi, in Pennsylvania that describe the harrowing journey. Atmospheric black and white pencil sketches illustrate a few of the story’s major events, and a clearly drawn map traces the wagon’s route on the Overland Trail. The well-paced story is a page turner.”—Horn Book

“Austin Ives, 12, heads West in 1851 with a wagon train and writes letters to his younger brother, who remains in Pennsylvania. An orphan, Austin is traveling with the Morrison family and plans to settle on the Oregon land his father claimed before he died. The book’s epistolary form makes exposition somewhat awkward and doesn’t allow for much sustaining of mood. Still, the boy’s voice rings true as he describes his adventures and draws the characters of the Morrisons; his friends, boaster Hiram and abused Frank; and the colorful trail cook, Reuben, who wears a coat covered with buttons from all the folks he’s met in his travels. Woodruff doesn’t spare the real sorrows of pioneer journeys – illness, death, lack of water, fights between travelers, and the threat of hostile Indians. Austin’s final difficulties are resolved a bit too easily, but readers will enjoy the happy ending. This tale, with its occasional pencil illustrations and short chapters, would make a good classroom read-aloud.”—School Library Journal