The past comes alive on the Erie Canal in Towpath Adventures. Twelve-year-old Jonathan Hamilton is a likeable main character who spends his summer managing mules, canal boats, cargo, and even escaped slaves in this 136-page historical fiction novel for middle-grade readers.
Set in central New York State during the early days of the Erie Canal, the story finds Jonathan at odds with his stepmother and unhappy at the news that his best friend is moving away. On the heels of this comes the announcement that his father, a blacksmith, has decided to ship Jonathan off to spend the summer with his Uncle James, a canal-boat owner who has recently lost his wife. James needs Jonathan to drive the mules along the towpath as they pull the shipment of cargo along the Erie Canal. In the course of the story, Jonathan acquires a new friend, Charles, and is unexpectedly drawn into the Underground Railroad.
Towpath Adventures is a lively read, and the historical details of life along the Erie Canal are impressive. A short glossary at the back of the book explains words that might be unfamiliar to modern-day readers. For example, a "drummer" is a traveling salesman. And have you ever wondered what a "conch horn" is? Or a "towpath"? Readers follow Jonathan as he and his uncle prepare the boat for its canal journey, load up, and begin the trip. Adventures await the crew of the Deliverance at every stop along the way. Seamlessly woven into the narrative are actual historical characters.
This book would be an excellent addition to a unit study on the Erie Canal. I wish I'd had this novel for my boys when we were studying that era of U.S. history. Towpath Adventures works well as a read-for-fun book also. The gospel is presented in a natural, non-intrusive way.
I highly recommend Towpath Adventures, especially for that hard-to-interest group of readers--our boys.