Finding books that one of my son enjoys reading has been a challenge. So when I had the opportunity to review some historical fiction books from Kregel Publications, I thought they might hold his interest.
What Are These Products?
Written for early chapter book readers, these softcover books are each 80 pages long. Each one has ten chapters. Since the chapters are fairly short, it wasn’t discouraging for my son (who struggles with reading) to read. He could easily knock out a chapter at a time without beginning to flip pages to see how much more he had to read.
Though he is older than the recommended age of 6-8, my son enjoyed reading these books. He was able to read them independently, which was a great boost to his reading confidence.
The books are set in Goldtown, California. This is a fictional gold camp in the 1800s. As you can imagine, the overall historical setting for these books is the Gold Rush.
Jem Strikes Gold
Seven year old Jem is the main character of this series. He’s living in the gold camp with his parents and his little sister Ellie.
(On a side note, my son Jeff liked that his name was close to Jem and that they both have sisters named Ellie…)
There are important rules in gold camp that dictate their way of life. Rules like:
- Stay on your own gold claim
- Pan your own gold
- Mind your own business in a gold camp
Personal responsibility and abiding the rules are important in this rough setting. And those can be tough for a curious young boy.
Jem tries hard to do right. His family is poor, and his mama sells pies and washes laundry to try to help them survive financially. All the while, they’re waiting on finding those big gold nuggets they’ve dreamed about.
Jem helps out however he can, but he most enjoys going and panning for gold. He has big dreams of striking it rich and helping his family. But there’s a problem.
His father owns the new gold mine, and is building a real house up on a hill. It’s a big house.
And Will likes to remind Jem that he’s rich and Jem’s poor. He often picks on him and causes trouble.
So when one of his prospecting friends comes back to camp with a scrawny dog, Jem sees a way to stand up to the gold camp bully. Except his parents don’t want an extra mouth to feed, so Jem doesn’t know if he can keep the dog.
As Jem continues navigating life in the gold mine, he strikes gold in a completely unexpected way. And finds a way to keep Will from picking on him.
Jem’s Frog Fiasco
The second book in the Goldtown Beginning series picks up where the first one ends. Jem is in the camp, and has to find a way to earn money to pay for meat scraps for his new dog.
The local cafe owner tells Jem he’ll pay five cents for every bullfrog Jem can catch. So the young boy declares he will be the best frog catcher in Goldtown.
In between delivering pies for Mama and keeping his dog out of trouble, Jem heads down to Bullfrog Pond to get rich. Except, things don’t go as planned and bullfrogs are a lot harder to catch then Jem thought. Especially since he has to bring his little sister Ellie along. And they discover that bullfrogs shriek and bite…
Furious, Jem forgets his promise to watch after his sister and sends her home. And then she winds up missing. Jem has to explain to Mama that he forgot his promise to watch after Ellie, and try to help find her. A gold camp and the rough wilderness is no place for a little girl to be alone in…
How We Used the Books
I had my son read both of these books. He read at least a chapter a day. Then we talked about what happened.
There are some activity guides located on the website. To find those, click on the “Learn More” on the Goldtown Beginnings series. On the page that opens, you will see the option to download the free activity pages. These include comprehension questions and vocabulary development. There are also recommendations for completing lapbook projects, which can be purchased separately.
Here is what one of the activity pages looks like:
What We Thought of These Books
My son said the books were good. He say, “The first one is about Jem trying to help his family strike it rich. He gets a dog and tries to think of a way so he can keep it.”
“The second one, Jem has to catch frogs to make enough money to buy meat for his dog. Then he gets mad at his sister and does something bad. Thankfully the dog helps Jem find Ellie.”
These were cute books, and perfect for readers who are just getting into chapter books. If you’re looking for a fun historical series, definitely check out Goldtown Beginnings.