links image map Newbery Books Caldecott Books C.S. King Books Ages 9 Up  Tweens Young Adult Baby / Pre K Picture Books Special Collection / Poetry Fairy Tales Bully Books History / Social Studies Black History Women in History Native American Science and Math Nature Nature Links Educational / Homework Language Arts Art and Games Music and Dance ETC Outreach News I Want to Contribute ETC Newsletter Home Page Search Site Email ETC Welcome to Embracing the Child
Marian Calabro
The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party

The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party

In April 1846, 32 people set out from Springfield, Illinois, in search of a better life in the largely unsettled California territory. Joining forces with other emigrants along the trail, they became known as the Donner Party. The journey started well. Then the pioneers fell perilously behind due to questionable choices, infighting, and plain bad luck.

By the time the Donner Party began to cross the Sierra Nevada, winter had arrived. Stopped by impassable snows, 81 people were trapped in the mountains with rapidly dwindling food and supplies. Those who survived did so at an appalling cost; some of the survivors ate the dead.

This historic journey is chronicled in detail and with unique attention to the experiences of the children and teenagers who made up nearly half of the group. The author especially draws on the observations of Virginia Reed, who was 12 years old when her family left Springfield. Virginia's letters and recollections give a personal voice to the tragic tale. The 192-page book also includes about 85 photographs, some of which have never been published before.

The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party is well written, thoroughly researched and is responsible and sensitive to the external conditions of cannibalism.

Ages 10+

Additional Resources:

VIDEO: PBS "American Experience" 90-minute documentary by Ric Burns

Donner Party - Diaries, accounts, interviews, and diagrams made by actual participants as well as photographs of artifacts, people, and location.

Donner Party's Journey Logs

The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party has been awarded:

An ALA Best Book of the Year
ALA Booklist Editor's Choice
NY Public Library Top 100 List of Books for Reading & Sharing
Winner of the California Library Association's Beatty Award for best children's or YA book on a California subject

Marian Calabro is a writer with a special interest in history and biography. She first became intrigued by the Donner Party one winter when she and several friends suddenly encountered blinding fog while crossing Donner Pass at night. In researching The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party, she traveled West several times and attended a reunion of Donner Party descendants and scholars.

Ms. Calabro is the author of three previous books, all nonfiction: Operation Grizzly Bear; Zap! A Brief History of Television; and Great Courtroom Lawyers. She is also a business writer who has written corporate histories.

A graduate of Rutgers College, she lives in northern New Jersey with her husband, the writer Bernie Libster.