The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party

Calabro, Marian. The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party. 1999. 192pp. Lexile 1020.

The Donner Party's grim journey is associated with cannibalism, but there is much more to the story.  The trip from Illinois to California described in compelling prose paints a picture of life in a wagon train and the difficulties of travel.  The party made a bad decision that stranded them in the Sierras in snowy November, thus leading to starvation conditions.  Letters give the viewpoint of a 13-year-old girl who lived through the disaster in this gripping account of a gruesome historical episode. This book falls into 6th-10th grade Lexiles; its high appeal topic makes it a good choice across the grade levels.

Reading Std #7:  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, visually and quantitatively, and in words.  The PBS show “American Experience” has amassed a variety of information and tools on the topic of the Donner Party.  Their website on it includes a short diary from the actual trip; an interactive map; a 80-minute video; and a teacher’s guide with discussion questions and activities. PBS website