A Perfect Place: Joshua's Oregon Trail Diary Discussion Guide
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
The My America books are historical fiction novels aimed at youngsters in the 7-10 year-old range. Each award-winning author writing these books uses multiple diaries to relate the ongoing adventures of one child living through some of the major events in American history.
In A Perfect Place: Joshua’s Oregon Trail Diary, Book Two, Oregon Territory, 1848, Patricia Hermes continues the McCullough family’s story began in Westward to Home. While book one focused on the historic trek from Missouri to Oregon, this new diary tells what happens to the family in the Oregon territory they dreamed about.
In Oregon, endless rain and flooding makes clearing the land and building cabins almost impossible. Dreams of wealth cause many of the pioneers to move on to California and the Gold Rush. Those who stay, like the McCulloughs, weather the floods and survive with the help and kindness of strangers and friends alike. Joshua writes, “I don’t know why — but it always surprises me what people do to help other people.” Against the background of America’s westward expansion, today’s young readers will also see how courageous and selfless people can be.
"Tell it all — the good and the not-so-good." That's what Grandpa tells nine-year-old Joshua as he begins to write in his second diary. It is 1848, and the family has finally arrived at the Willamette Valley in Oregon after a 2,000-mile journey from St. Joseph, Missouri. There is much to be done: homesteads to be claimed, land to be cleared, and houses to be built. When his daily chores are done, Joshua plays with his younger sister Becky, goes exploring in the woods with his cousin Charlie, and on one special day, travels to Oregon City with Grandpa.
It rains a lot, and the building and clearing stops. The nearby rivers begin to flood, and the settlers must pack up their wagons and head through high water and driving rain to the nearest town. The folks there open their homes to the travelers. Joshua writes, " I'm actually dry. I'm warm....It's been six months since I've slept in a bed in a house."
Tragedy strikes when Grandpa and Pa go back to help a family who stayed behind in the valley. Grandpa gets trapped underneath a flooded wagon and drowns. Joshua is devastated and can’t stop thinking, "If we'd stayed in Missouri, Grandpa would still be alive." When the water goes down, Joshua and Pa return to their land. They decide to build a small cabin for the family, but to keep it a secret from Ma until it's finished.
The family celebrates Christmas in their new home. When spring comes, they are settled in, an orchard has been planted, and Joshua has a new baby brother. As Joshua’s diary comes to a close, the boy thinks of Grandpa and what he'd said about this place. "Oregon is a fine place to be." Once more Grandpa was right.
Thinking About the Book
- Explain why Joshua is keeping a diary.
- Why is Joshua both happy and sad when he finds out his mother is expecting a baby?
- Why is this book titled A Perfect Place?
- Why does Joshua consider his grandpa his best friend?
- How do Joshua’s parents feel about Oregon becoming a non-slave territory?
- Why is it important to Ma to be in her own home by Christmas?
- Joshua’s grandfather always said to him, “Just use your head.” Give several examples to show Joshua learned to do this.
- What is the happiest part of Joshua’s diary? What is the saddest?
- When it rained for days and days, Joshua and the other children were forced to stay inside the tents. They told ghost stories and made shadow pictures on the walls to entertain themselves. Pretend you were stuck indoors for several days without any electricity. What could you and your friends do for fun?
- Explain what each of the following means.
- Joshua is often trying to tell his mother he is growing up and is not a little boy anymore. How has Joshua changed by the end of A Perfect Place?
- Joshua writes, “I don’t know why—but it always surprises me what people do to help other people.” List your favorite examples of people helping each other in A Perfect Place.
- Tell about a situation in modern times where people have worked together to help and support one another.
- Pretend you are Joshua. Write a diary entry describing his newly built home and next to your entry draw a picture of what you think the cabin looked like. To make your paper look like an old page of a diary, put four tea bags in two cups of warm water. Place your paper in the mixture for about twenty minutes. Take the paper out and let it dry.
- Read the first book in the Joshua series, Westward to Home, where he describes the adventures as his family makes the dangerous journey to Oregon.
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.