As a longtime lover of historical fiction--especially anything
remotely related to wagon trains, the Oregon Trail, and life in
the West--I eagerly picked up The Youngest Mountain Man.
Unlike most of the fiction I read as an adolescent, though, this
one is geared toward the masculine mind instead of the feminine,
the more adventurous mind instead of the more idealistic. The story
starts off with a bang as young Jacob Thompson's family gets attacked
by Indians while they are traveling in their covered wagon. Although
his parents are killed and his younger sister is taken, the boy
manages to escape thanks to the cunning aid of two mountain men,
Prophet and Four-Toes Wallace.
Jacob, later known as Long Shot Thompson, learns how to survive
in the wilderness thanks to the instruction and prowess of Prophet
and Four-Toes. Over time he learns to aim and shoot, to trap and
trade, to track animals and forage for food, and even how to parley
with Indians in order to locate and retrieve his little sister.
Along the journey, Jacob does quite a lot of maturing and is rewarded
with respect and love. While the crusty mountain men who took him
on as their apprentice seem rough and callous, as time goes on
it is obvious that Jacob has softened them.
In the Foreword, the author explains how he wants the reader to
interpret the mountain men's jargon and even describes what their
voices ought to sound like, both of which will have you chuffing
right along with the ill-used English spoken by the mountain men
and Indians. The descriptions throughout the book are vivid, detailed,
and occasionally graphic, allowing young readers to feel immersed
in the story and to vicariously experience the thrilling adventures.
The author also explains that while the story itself is fiction,
much of the information included is real and accurate, gathered
from his own experiences and studies about rustic frontier mountain
life. Throughout the story, there are many unfamiliar words and
terms, but instead of skipping over those words, the author encourages
the reader to refer to the Glossary included in the back of the
book. This gives further insight into the era and lives of the
As the mother of two little boys, I think this is going to be
a fun book to keep handy on the bookshelf. I'm envisioning lots
of reenacting, questions leading to fun discussions, cooking of
jerky, and crafting of our own skunk-skin caps. This book is a
well-priced, well-bound paperback with short chapters and large
type. It is perfect for reading aloud to a group as well as for
individual reading. While it would appeal to a vast range of ages
of both boys and girls, it does seem like the ideal audience would
be adolescent boys, ages 9 to 15. So when your sons or students
are ready for some adventure, let them see how Long Shot Thompson
deals with being chased by a bear, knocked over by the kick of
a rifle, threatened by various mountain men, and faced with the
prospect of being scalped!