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The Youngest Mountain Man Review by Melissa Cummings

Gary Kelley
17485 SW Pheasant Lane
Beaverton, OR 97006

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 mountain men.

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!

Product review by Melissa Cummings, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2011