Sunday, January 08, 2006

Riding Freedom, by Pam Munoz Ryan

Based on a true story, orphan Charlotte Parkhurst can ride horses better than any of the boys at the orphanage she grew up in, but the simple fact that she is a girl in the mid-1800s means that she will never be allowed to. When her best friend Haywood gets adopted and she is told that she will never be allowed to ride again, she runs away and takes on a new identity as "Charley." Charley becomes a legendary coach driver who eventually moves out to California, realizing her dreams and becoming one of the first women to vote.

This engaging and true story is a fascinating piece of history. The stuff that Hollywood movies are made of (and it would make a spectacular movie), it's hard not to root for everything that Charlotte overcomes in her life. If the story had been written for adults, the author might have spent more time on what Charlotte had to forgo to live her life as she did, but Ryan wisely sticks to just a few episodes that hint at this, providing instead a heart-warming and inspirational tale for middle readers. Strongly recommended.

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