Today's post is in memory of one of my home state authors. His name is Dean Cumings, and he never intended to be a writer, actually. But when he found an old family journal from a Philip Cumings written during the period of 1840-1845, his children encouraged him to fictionalize it and bring it to life for modern day readers. He listened to them, and it's been a hit in the Michigan homeschool circles ever since it came out, with older folk and younger folk alike. Not only do homeschool circles love it, but school libraries both in state and out of state love it as well.
And all this after his retirement, when instead of living for his own amusement, he decided instead that he wanted to leave a legacy for his 26 grandchildren. The fruit of his labor is Ellie: A Pioneer Girl's Journey West
Ten-year-old Ellie Cumings lives on a comfortable New York farm with her cats and her dog, her mother and father, her two brothers, Zeb and Caleb, and her baby sister Cassie. Life is fairly normal. School, barn raisings and church take up most of her days, with the occasional excitement of being chased by a wild bull. But Ellie's a curious girl, as well as a writer, and she craves new things and broader horizons (though not, I might add, in the typical rebellious way so often found in children's literature.)
A story isn't a story without change, however, and when her grandpa and grandma decide to up stakes and move to the untamed region of Michigan, Ellie's family begins a rapid series of changes. Her father Phillip keeps on contentedly with his life in New York for a while after his parents move, but the bite of travel has settled on him nonetheless, and when his father writes a month after to tell him of the rich soil to be gotten oh, so cheaply, Phillip Cumings begins to have second thoughts. Fighting for good crops in the worn-out land of New York has never been easy. If he takes a chance, he very well might have an opportunity at a better life. After some consultation and much earnest prayer, he decides to send his two sons--seventeen-year-old Zeb and fifteen-year-old Caleb--out to his father to stake some land before he travels on with his wife and daughters. It's a risk for everyone.
Ellie of course, is quite excited. Before her family leaves she turns eleven, and with her knack for writing which her Mama encourages, she often puts all her observations in a little blank notebook. Through selling the farm and leaving her beloved cats behind, rejoicing as her father buys a new wagon, and helping the family pack up to leave, she writes down everything she feels.
And when she leaves for the west, there is much, much more to be chronicled.
While the book is written probably for the 8-12 age range, people of all ages have enjoyed it, including myself. I hesitate to call it children's literature, simply because some would avoid it because of that, but that's probably where it would be classified. If you enjoy or have enjoyed Little House on the Prairie, this falls very much in the same genre. It's not a story with complicated plot and characters, but it's the classic bread-and-butter story of all American pioneer literature, and a definite gem. Dean Cumings drew eight line drawings to accompany the text.
There is no language--slang here or there, but not too often--and I would give it to pretty much any child without misgivings. The only disturbing element for children might be a baby dying after getting lost in a swamp, but the extent of that disturbance varies depending on the reader's temperament.
Ellie Cuming's family looks at life from a strong Christian perspective. Love of the Lord and a reliance on his guidance dominates their perspective as they consider moving west. Scripture, godly parental counsel, and obedient children make this story an excellent influence and winsomely portray a Christian home.
It's hard to find pre-civil war literature about the pioneers, or at least I have a difficulty with it. Any story highlighting the sacrifices of men and women who settled the area I live in today is quite an enjoyable treat. Imagine a time where "OK" was a new innovate word used by teenagers, instead of being used all day like we do now. Try going five minutes without saying or thinking it, and you'll find out how ingrained it is in you, and how different the culture was then. :)
In the era when Gene Stratton-Porter's Limberlost stood in all its unsullied glory, and the Great Lake State lay undeveloped and wild, Ellie chronicles one family's desire to homestead in it for a better future. It deserves five stars, and I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here on Amazon.
Mr. Cumings passed away in December last year, and since I heard of it only recently, I wanted to honor him with this blog post. He died before he was able to complete and publish the second book in the Ellie series. Thought this would have been a continuation of Ellie's story, the first book is complete in itself and won't leave you on any tantalizing cliff-hangers. I was sad to hear of his passing, for I had the opportunity to meet him at a writer's conference, and it was truly an honor. I remember him especially because he let me read the first chapter of his next book, and we talked about it quite a lot together. I wish I could have seen him again. He was a kind man, and I enjoyed listening as he told me some of the history he had discovered about the area where I live. You can find out a little more about him here. His life goes to prove that it is never too late to start a new mission, and it is vital to search out family legacy for our children and grandchildren.