Riding Freedom by Pam Muñoz Ryan. il Brian Selznick.
Scholastic Press: NY, 1998.

In Ryan's fictionalized account, a girl runs away from an orphanage/workhouse, dresses as a boy in order to work with the horses she loves, becomes one of the best stagecoach drivers, moves to California as a pioneer, and becomes possibly the first woman to vote in the United States (dressed as a man). The story is based on the life of Charley (Charlotte) Parkhurst who lived as a male most of her life. In the beginning, she was afraid of being sent back to the orphanage. Then, she knew she could lose the right to work at her chosen profession. So, few knew she was a female before she died.

The story focuses on Charlotte's relationship with the horses, her desire to control her own life, her learning experiences as a stagecoach driver, and her joy in the work she was doing. Her story is an excellent example of independence and hard work. Ryan tells the story of this strong-willed woman in a real and heartwarming way.

The illustrations in this book are nice, gentle, realistic and detailed, and have a historical feel. However, most of them are not as striking as in the other books Selznick illustrated. The pictures are less integrated, but there is less of a need for that since the story is well developed (keeping the interest of older children better).

related-Charley Parkhurst, 1879, mistaken identity, history of California, tending and driving horses, women's rights, independence, freedom, friendship, transitional books, chapter books

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