Today it’s about kids. One, Patty Reed, aged 8, survived the “starved camp” of the Donner Party in 1846. And another, Feddie Harper, 11, is a present-day kid who lived in my head and comes to life in my new release by my other me, Anya Novikov. Black Dog, White Dog is part of the fun and wonderful anthology My Dog Can Do Magic, from the Prairie Rose Publications imprint, Tornado Alley. I wanted to write something my little grandsons could read. The story is inspired by the horse rescue where I muck and feed, and where I have set up a reading program for our youngest volunteers.
But back to Patty. Her father James Reed was the actual founder of the Donner Party, and his family of six was one of only two families to survive intact after the dreadful winter entrapment near Lake Tahoe.
The well-off Reeds started the journey in a two-story wagon so elaborate the party somewhat snidely nicknamed it “the Pioneer Palace.” However, like everybody else, the family was forced to lighten the load along the way. Yet Patty couldn’t part with “Dolly”, a four-inch wooden toy she kept snug and secret in her pocket. Dolly helped keep Patty company in the darkest of times. You can see a copy of Dolly today at the Emigrant Museum in Truckee, and the real artifact, at Sutter’s Fort State Historical Park near Sacramento.
“Patty” Reed, (February 26, 1838-July 4, 1923) was born in Sagamon County, Illinois, and christened Martha Jane. Today’s Martha Street in San Jose, California, is named for her. After the harrowing winter, Patty was part of the first of four relief parties that evacuated the survivors. For many years after the rescue, her parents managed a mildly successful life in northern California. Widowed in 1876 after a happy marriage to Frank Lewis, Patty supported her seven kids by running several boardinghouses in the San Jose area.
I was happy to read that normal life was possible for somebody who had endured such horror. I highly recommend the book Desperate Passage, by Ethan Rarick, if you are interested in the Donner party. This incredible book is impossible to put down.
In my story, Feddie Harper is trying to survive the death of his beloved black Lab, McKnight. Yup, it’s Feddie, no R, although everybody messes up and calls him Freddie. grrrrr. Volunteering at the nearby horse rescue helps him find a life-saving dog…in more ways than one.
Add a touch of California Chumash history and legend, and well, Feddie’s summer turns out pretty good! Will he and Helene have more adventures? I think so! (Of course there’s gotta be a girl!)
How about you? Have you ever had a special doll or dog that helped keep you company as you navigated through a hard time?
Excerpt: Mom taught third grade at his school. Luckily, Feddie had never had to enroll in her class. Oh, he knew she was a cool teacher, but what did you call your mom if she was your teacher? Mom? Mrs. Harper?
“Which reminds me…” Mom started off again.
Feddie’s heart thumped. He read her mind, too
“Your summer book list. Have you started?” She definitely tossed him a classroom glare.
“Mo-om. School’s been out, like, an hour.”
“More than a week now. And you have six books to read for your reading journal.”
“Thing is…you know Mrs. Wegner from school, don’t you?”
“Mom.” He rolled his eyes. “It’s a small school. Know. I know everybody.” Then he ground his teeth. If she thought for one second to get him a tutor he’d…
“Well, she’s a volunteer at the local horse rescue.”
Horse rescue? Feddie perked up at that. Like McKnight’s ears had when he heard something. Horses were almost as cool as dogs. “So?”
“Well, I thought that was something you and I could do to pass the time. There’s an orientation meeting this afternoon.”
“All right.” Anything to postpone the reading list.
“Thing is…volunteers under twelve aren’t allowed in the stalls.”
“I’ll be twelve in September!”
“It doesn’t matter. You aren’t twelve yet. Anyway, I want to muck to get some exercise. There’s a reading program where kids read to the horses. You could do that while I clean stalls.”
“What? Read to the horses?” Well, it wasn’t that weird of an idea. He’d done his homework with McKnight his whole life.
“Yes. That way, the horses get acquainted with the next generation of volunteers. And with you having a list of books to read, it just seems fortuitous.”
Another big word. She did it all the time. He grumped out loud. “English, Mom.”
Available for pre-order. Release date March 10.