The Balloon Boy of San Francisco
Dorothy Kupcha Leland
Entertaining Read ... Recommended ... 4 stars
The narrative opens on a fog shrouded day in San Francisco. It is March 31, 1853 and the steam ship Independence has wrecked off the Lower California coast. Ready Gates and other newsboys hurry to tell the city of the loss. The Gates family came to San Francisco hoping for a better life. To date the fortune they hoped to find remains elusive. Ready’s mother toils making cushions for area churches while his father works as a brick mason. Mr Gates and Ready have a plan up their sleeves to change their lives for the better. Before Ready can set out to pan for gold with his father Mr Gates is grievously injured and Ready must give up all hope for leaving the life he desperately wants to put behind him. Ready continues to hawk the news for ‘The Alta California,’ before changing jobs and working for Pat Hull at ‘The Whig.’ Ready seems to be everywhere the action is; he meets actress Lola Montez, sneaks onto a riverboat in an effort to evade paying a fare, runs into old friends and makes new ones, helps track down a missing gold miner and is in the middle of everything going on. One fateful day Ready begins a journey he never expected to make.
The discovery of gold served to prompt San Francisco into becoming a thriving city overflowing with activity and people in addition to the city serving as an important hub with numerous ties to the rest of the nation. Set five years after the discovery of gold "The Balloon Boy of San Francisco" depicts a vivid peek into every day life in this busy, exhilarative city on the bay. Writer Leland has done her research well to provide details necessary to bring to life the colorful gold rush era in this appealing narrative telling of red haired Ready, Joseph, Gates and the eye-popping, unexpected journey he made as is recorded in early California and other of the nation’s newspapers.
"The Balloon Boy of San Francisco" begins with fourteen year old Ready Gates rushing to pick up the latest newspaper issue to hawk on San Francisco streets. The tale ends with the reader learning that Ready Gates was an actual person and his most amazing flight is listed in a book published by the Smithsonian Institute. Without sounding ‘teacherage’, talented writer Leland employs an easy reading, writing style to furnish enough minutiae essential for providing an excellent history lesson for youngsters in the middle grades. From the outset reader interest is held tight with flowing details of many colorful characters, burning buildings, sinking ships, gold fever and kidnappings. Lola Montez, street preaching, daguerreian artists, rivalry from other newsboys who are as desperate as Ready to earn money for their families and a most amazing balloon flight all serve to further understanding for some of the picturesque past of one of the most fascinating cities in our country.
Enterprise, harsh reality of daily life and adventure abound on the pages of this fast paced tale peopled with appealing characters, zesty dialog, and richly drawn backdrops against which the history of early California comes to life. As a native Californian who was myself born in the bay area, I particularly enjoyed this fascinating, well-written tale. "The Balloon Boy of San Francisco" is an excellent choice for pleasure reading, classroom ‘California’ unit work, the homeschool curriculum as well as home and school libraries.
Enjoyed the read, happy to recommend.