Review: Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill

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June 17, 2013 by Heidi

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick HillTitle: Bo at Ballard Creek [Goodreads]
Author: Kirkpatrick Hill
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Middle Grade; Historical
Published: June 18th, 2013 by Henry Holt & Co.
Format: Hardcover; 288 pages
Source: ARC from publisher.

It’s the 1920s, and Bo was headed for an Alaska orphanage when she won the hearts of two tough gold miners who set out to raise her, enthusiastically helped by all the kind people of the nearby Eskimo village.

Bo learns Eskimo along with English, helps in the cookshack, learns to polka, and rides along with Big Annie and her dog team. There’s always some kind of excitement: Bo sees her first airplane, has a run-in with a bear, and meets a mysterious lost little boy.

Here is an unforgettable story of a little girl growing up in the exhilarating time after the big Alaska gold rushes.

Some books are like coming home, and for me reading Bo at Ballard Creek was like being wrapped in a warm, cozy blanket by a parent as I snuggled up for the evening.  It’s quite unusual for a book I’ve never read before to give me that feeling, but when something manages to be so utterly in the vein of my childhood love of Little House, while very obviously doing its own thing, I can’t help but enjoy.  

Bo at Ballard Creek is a juvenile title aimed at readers younger than the middle grade titles I usually pick up, but again it called my name from the moment I saw its cover.  Filled with the aptly charming illustrations of LeUyen Pham, Bo’s life in a small mining town in 1929 Alaska will leap off of the page and into your heart.  Obviously the illustrations below are unfinished and from the ARC, however, I thought you readers might love to see several of my personal favorites from this book: Bo getting her hair done up in curls (which she despises), and Bo helping out at the sluicing.

Bo at Ballard Creek illustration by LeUyen PhamBo at Ballard Creek illustration by LeUyen Pham

Bo is a young girl whose parenting has been taken on by two men in the mining camp, Jack and Arvid, who work as cook and blacksmith, respectively.  The relationship is very ‘My Two Dads’ in a community where the only women around are either “good time” girls or the women of native Eskimo families, and also reflect diversity in Jack being an African American hailing from Louisiana and Arvid coming from Sweden.  Bo’s world is one of community, friendship, and the wild, and through Kirkpatrick Hill’s words I was transported back to a time before great change came to the remote communities of Alaska.

In Ballard Creek, despite the year, there are no automobiles or movie theaters–though tales of such things from the “city” of Fairbanks are well known.  Mail is carried by boat in the summer and dogsled team in the winter, and the visit of an airplane marks a momentous occasion in all of the locals’ lives.  Bo at Ballard Creek is the wonderful and informative kind of historical fiction that emmerses young readers in the everyday tasks of a lilihood no longer with us, here bringing us into gold mining practices, one-room school houses, and Eskimo traditions.  While the small community is almost unrealistically open-armed and generous, this book also acknowledges some of the world’s harsh realities of the time and place, such as child abandonment, wilderness safety, and the need to pick up and move one’s livelihood when a claim was exhausted.

Bo herself is quite the Pollyanna, but in the most charming Hayley Mills sense as opposed to the somewhat derogatory/annoying sense.  She is a child who spends her life brightening the existence of those around her, be it her pappas, her Eskimo friends, the miners, or us readers.  Through her ever-shining outlook this world that could so easily seem quaint or wrote is instead full of wonder.  I particularly loved her visits with the miner who has adopted a slew of animals and her experience with jealousy and sisterhood through an orphaned boy who comes to town.

Again, I realize Bo at Ballard Creek is a bit young for what many of us read, but I assure you that if you’re looking for that comfort read that takes you back to childhood, it’s an excellent choice.  Definitely recommended for readers of all ages who enjoy historical fiction and life on the frontier.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I’m not sure since Hill’s books seem largely to be younger than those I tend to read, however, I’ll certainly be recommending her work and perusing it more in the future.

Recommended for:  Any kid (or adult) you know who loves the Little House books and wants more.

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3 comments »

  1. Awww, this does look super cute. Also, I love that you read books I’ve never even heard of. I do think this one runs a bit younger than I can generally manage, but just the images flash me back to books like Laura Ingalls Wilder!

    • Heidi says:

      Haha, you occasionally find books I’VE never heard of as well! I totally understand if this one’s a bit young for people, but it totally brought me back to Laura Ingalls Wilder and made me super happy.

  2. I REALLY like this review…made me smile all day. Thanks!

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