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Harrowing adventures on the Oregon Trail

TUCKET'S GOLD By Gary Paulsen Delacorte Press 97 pp., $15.95 Ages 9-12

This book is not for sensitive types. After all, Francis Tucket's life is pretty difficult. He's stranded in a hot, dry prairie with no food or water, and he's running from the Comanchero outlaws, who sell children into slavery. Only 15 years old, he's protecting two young children he found after their father died and the wagon train left without them.

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All Francis really wants to do is to head West to search for his parents on the Oregon Trail. It's been over a year since he was kidnapped by the Pawnees, but even after surviving "Indian fights, blizzards, gun battles and thieves," he has a few more perilous adventures to survive before he can hit the trail.

Indeed, this book is full of the danger and harshness of life in the Wild West. Readers will have to be tough-minded, just as Francis and his two young charges had to be tough enough to survive walking for days on blistered bare feet, hungry and thirsty, hiding from "the dirt-meanest men ... in a world full of mean men."

Paulsen prepares his readers for the grueling and gruesome adventure in the first sentence of the book, announcing that "death, brutal death, was close to taking them." He devotes several pages early in the book to a detailed description of Francis' rifle, a treasured gift from his father and a necessary tool for survival. And Paulsen doesn't spare the reader any bloodshed when Francis kills a deer and young Lottie skins and cuts the meat for their meal.

Despite these harrowing adventures, Francis, Lottie, and Billie are still kids. When the trio discovers a buried treasure, Billie wants to spend his fortune on rock candy as soon as they can find a store. Paulsen has created another page-turner for those who like to tough it out - if only vicariously.

*Enicia Fisher taught children's literature at Principia College in Elsah, Ill.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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