"THE WHITE OX," by Dan Burr and Ruth Hailstone, Calkins Creek, $18.95
Stories of pioneer children arriving in Zion are always welcome for young readers. They provide not only understanding of the hardships endured but also moral lessons in patience combined with tests of faith.
None do that better than Ruth Hailstrone's account of 10-year-old Emily Swain as she traveled toward Salt Lake City to join her uncle.
In 1863, Emily sails from England with other Mormons, confident her own family would follow when funds were available.
Sickness on the ship is rampant. The heat is unbearable. Young Emily longs for her family and her home in England.
"Nobody cares if I live or die. I don't want to go to Zion anymore, I just want to go home."
In Nebraska, she and the Kirby family join a wagon train headed west. They have no money for a wagon for themselves and walk behind. Emily is often barefoot.
One morning she finds a white ox, "sickly, weak and left to die." After she nurtures it with water and grass, the ox rises to its feet and follows her. Sometimes she is able to ride on the white ox.
On her 11th birthday, Emily and the wagon train arrive in Salt Lake City and join her uncle. But the white ox is gone.
"I believe my ox was sent to help me reach Zion, and now he's gone to someone who needs him more than I do."
The sweet story is simply Emily's, and it never loses its singular focus.
The brief monologue is relived as if a great-grandmother is telling the story, passing it from one generation to the next.
What places "The White Ox" above the average pioneer story are Burr's stunning paintings, which emote quiet dignity. He has captured the diversity of light and dark tones in the desperate facial features and moody shadows on the boat travel.
These are striking compared to the beautiful sun-dappled prairie scenes and the majestic snow-topped Rockies that are poster-perfect. (Burr knows these mountains well.)
The wagon train is realistically portrayed. Burr's daughter, Hannah, was the model for Emily, and each page is a vibrant portrait. He is certainly a new artist to watch for.
Both author and illustrator were born in Utah. Hailstone and her husband live in Cedar City, where she home schools her eight children.
After trying an art career in the East, Dan Burr returned to the Teton Valley of Idaho with his family, where he has illustrated a number of books for young readers.
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