Monday, March 1, 2010

An Action-Packed Story of a Girl and Her Horse...

...on a nineteenth century riverboat. What a combination, right? I never would have thought that horses and riverboats were a likely pair,but Alison Hart has thankfully proven me wrong.

            The year is 1852. Ten-year-old Emma and her mother, have boarded the Sally May for a steamboat journey that will take them up the Missouri river to St. Joseph where Papa will be waiting. Dr. Burton, who is tending Mama's fragile health, treats Emma like a bothersome child and bosses her around, even though she is used to getting her own way. Also along for the journey is Emma's beloved horse, Licorice Twist. It is concern for her horse that first lures her below deck--a place she is forbidden to go. What an incredible shock it is for Emma to encounter a world so different than her own pampered life of comfortable staterooms and fine food. 

            As Emma's excursions below deck become more frequent, she encounters Patrick, an eleven-year-old stowaway who recently emigrated from Ireland. Slowly, Emma and Patrick develop a friendship that spans classes and ship levels. When the boiler explodes and the steamboat starts sinking, Emma must fight her way through the black smoke to find her friends and family before it is too late.

          So much happens in this book, that I thought it would be interesting to hear where the idea first came from, so here, straight from the horses mouth, so to speak, is Alison Hart. Be sure to read to the bottom to find out how to enter to win your own copy of Emma's River.

            "Ideas are everywhere, and one of my favorite things about writing is discovering an idea that can turn into a terrific story for young readers.
              When I was researching for my early chapter book, Anna’s Blizzard (Peachtree 2005), which is all about the Blizzard of 1888, I read many books. One of my favorite was Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford (Bison Books). Mollie Sanford traveled from Indianapolis to Nebraska City by train and steamboat. She was one of the first families to settle in the Territory of Nebraska, and I was eager to read about her life on the plains to help shape my characters and setting for Anna. However, as I read, I was totally fascinated by her description of her steamboat journey. Mollie and her family traveled on the luxurious cabin deck, which “boasted of staterooms, saloons, and a nursery.” She wrote of meeting “fussy old ladies with their poodle dogs” and a new friend Dora who turned “sweet sixteen.” But she also wrote that a “destitute creature was found today with a dying child” on the main deck, where the immigrants traveled. This piqued my interest!
             In Ham, Eggs and Corn Cakes: A Nebraska Territory Diary (Bison Books), Erastus F. Beadle wrote about his steamboat trip up the Missouri River. He described the passengers boarding the New Lucy “like a mass of sheep tumbling over each other in the dark.”  He wrote about geese on the sandbars, thunderstorms, and climbing to the top of Chimney Rock. By now, I had decided that a steamboat trip would be the perfect setting for an adventure. Further research cemented the idea.    
             My first version was a picture book titled Up the Big Muddy.  I envisioned illustrations of lovely ladies waltzing under chandeliers on the cabin deck as well as immigrants and sweaty deckhands squashed together on the main deck accompanying my rollicking text. Alas, the picture book was nixed for several reasons; the main reason was a similar picture book had just been published by a different publisher. Fortunately, my editor liked the idea and suggested turning it into an early chapter book, which meant a more complex plot.
            Journals and diaries offer observations, details and language that history books can not, which is why I love them for research. However, Steamboats of the Western River, a detailed history of steamboats, gave me my plot.  I read true tales of steamboats exploding, sinking, catching fire, and running aground. Who knew? Further research helped flesh out my characters and focus the plot. Soon Emma, Patrick, Twist, Mama, and Doctor Burton boarded The Sally May for a suspense-filled adventure on the Missouri:

            “Look Emma!” Mama waved at her to hurry. “There she is.” The Sally May rose from the river as tall as a three-story building. The steamboat was white, with gold and black trim. Pendants and flags snapped in the breeze. Its name was written in red scroll on the paddlewheel housing.
            Hand on her hat, Emma tipped back her head so she could see the top of the two chimneys. They belched thick smoke. Above the pilothouse, gulls dove and soared. Emma’s heart soared with them."

And now for the giveaway! Simply leave a comment below letting me know why you want to read Emma's River. What about it interests you? Be sure to leave your e-mail address. The Contest will go on until March 12th, so keeps those comments coming! Also, feel free to leave questions for Alison to answer.


  1. I have always loved the rivers and horses. This book really piqued my interest. I also know a young lady that would love to read about Emma's adventures, although I might have to give Emma's River a quick read before I passed it on. :).

  2. Oh my goodness! That sounds like such an amazing book. there is about a million reasons why I want to read it!! :0)It has a horse for one thing, its by you! (alison Hart, an amazing author!!) It seems like such an interesting and exciting book. And I love that its set in history. I'm a huge history fan. It looks like it will have a lot of twists and turns and I LOVE that. Oh, I really want to read this book. This definitely looks like a book that would become a favorite for me.

    My email:

  3. AND thats a great time period, AND I like the friendship between the boy and girl. Boys and girls seem to only be able to have friendships at that ae. :0( :0)

  4. From HorseFeathers

    The number one reason I want to read this book is because it portrays the signigigant bond between a horse and his girl. Throughout any time, this is one of the most beautiful things in the world. After reading Hart's first book "Anna's Blizard" I learned about the courege for survival as I laughed, cried, and held my breath in anticipation with the charachters of the story. The summery for Hart's next book reminds me a little of myself as young girl full of spunk, intutition, and a love for horses. By observing the cover art and descriptions I can already tell this will be a champion work of adventure,history, excitment, and life lessons.
    So when asked "Why do you want to read Emma's River?" I say What's not to want? This is sure to be another masterpiece vauled by horselovers young and old alike.



  5. Ms Hart, What are some of your favorite true horse and owner stories in history? I think mine would have to be Sybil Ludington and her horse Star. A young 16 year old girl and her amazing horse who played a huge part in the war.


  6. Seems just the book to share with my kindergarten grandgirl who has just completely devoured The Little House on the Prairie series! She has also fallen in love with horses so Emma's River seems to be the perfect title to help encourage her love of historical fiction.

    I am so eager to read Emma's River so that I may introduce her to author Alison Hart and together we can discover new pioneer characters!

  7. Hi Anonymous--the book about Sybil sounds like something I would like to read. Do you remember the title?

    I don't think I've read any true horse stories. You need to send me some titles! Best, Alison

  8. I and my family are huge fans of Alison's Racing to Freedom trilogy and would love a copy of her new book!

  9. Ms. Hart,

    My favorite is "See the red sky" by Marjory Hall. It is based on the real teenager Sybil Ludington and even though it is an old print it is quite entrilling to me. There are other books written for the younger generations about Sybil but not that long. Since you write about gals like her back then, I believe that Sybil would be an excellent character persona for you to write about if you so choose to.

    Love your stories

  10. Lots of reasons to want this one!!! I think that it is every little girls dream to have a horse and this just seems like the ultimate boom for that! I also love the time period!! I would love this one on my shelf so that my little girl & I can read this & maybe she can help me convince her Daddy that having a horse wod be fun!! Good luck all & happy reading!!!


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  12. Wow! Sounds like a great adventure. I love stories with horses! I don't think there are enough of them out there. I would love to read this book. Love the cover too! The horse on the cover looks like my horse, Libby!


  13. What moment in your past that has drastically change you life?

  14. So we drew names and our winner is... ELIZABETH! Congrats! I will e-mail you with more info.


Leave us a comment and make sure to include an email address so we can contact you if you win a giveaway! Happy Reading!