The Children's Book Compass

A Historical Novel About the Westward Movement

Posted on: June 10, 2010

The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt.  (2010).  Henry Holt.  309 pages.  Grades 7 and up.  Historical Fiction.

The best of historical fiction causes us to ponder the sacrifices and struggles of those who have come before us.  The Water Seeker is one of the most enthralling historical novels I have read in years.  It prompted me to thoughtfully consider the lives of my great grandparents and their contributions in the settling of the West.  The novel chronicles the story of Amos Kincaid from his birth in a remote cabin in Missouri in 1833 through his journey on the Oregon Trail starting in 1848, and continuing with his new life in Oregon in 1859.  Along the way there are adventures, romances and heart touching moments.  The in-depth descriptions and depictions of various settings and secondary characters in this epic novel provide a rich portrait of the way life during the Westward expansion.  Amos’ mother dies in giving birth to him, but she reappears to those who care for him throughout the story as a hovering, loving presence.  Jake, Amos’ father is a trapper and a mountain man who is a gifted dowser.  The character of Jake’s second wife, Blue Owl, provides insights about Native Americans and how the Westward movement affected them.  Amos has two romances as the family travels to Oregon and there is a surprise in how they turn out.  As Amos grows to manhood he demonstrates honesty, endurance and courage.  Along the way he discovers his own gift of finding water and is able to bless the new farmers in the Oregon territory.  The themes of the value of family and importance of perseverance in the face of many challenges are skillfully woven throughout the story.  The details of the hardships and triumphs along the Trail are an inspiration.  Social Studies teachers will find this book an excellent read aloud for their classes in American history.  All ages from middle school on will enjoy this book as a satisfying read.

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