I'm Sorry, Almira Ann

Almira AnnI'm Sorry, Almira Ann by Jane Kurtz. Illustrated by Susan Havice. (1999) Reading Level: Ages 9-11. 96 pages. Henry Holt & Company. ISBN: 0805060944.

The Beginnings of I'm Sorry, Almira Ann

In the summer of 1959, I was visiting my grandparent's farm in eastern Oregon for the first time that I could remember. We were back in the U.S. for the year, and I was finding it hard to make friends. I was a skinny second-grader who was used to spending days making up and acting out stories with my own sisters and the few Ethiopian girls around Maji who weren't already working so hard around their homes that they had some time to play.

Here in the U.S., kids tended to stare at me and ask things like, "Did you see Tarzan?" So I was thrilled to arrive at my grandparents' farm and find cousins. When Dwight, my sophisticated third grade cousin, suggested that I borrow his sister Pam's socks so we could go wading in the swamp, it sounded good to me. Alas, our glorious, mucky adventure ended in a scolding from my stern grandmother who made me scrub the muck out of Pam's socks and pin them dutifully on the clothesline by the apricot trees.

When I was writing my first early middle grade novel, it wasn't so hard to slip back into that seven-year-old me to create Sarah, living on a farm in Missouri, itching to get on the road and find adventure on the Oregon Trail. "You must learn to tame your hasty spirit," Grandmother scolds. But Sarah's impulsiveness continues to spill over until, out on the trail, she accidentally causes grievous injury to her best friend, Almira Ann. And how do you say sorry after something like that?

If Sarah came from inside me, the details of her life in Missouri and on the trail came from years of reading about the Oregon Trail. Back in the early '90s, I published a historical activity book, The Oregon Trail: Dangers and Dreams, that was sold for seven years along the trail in museums, gift shops, and teacher stores?

Almost everything that happens to Sarah and Almira Ann really did happen to some child traveling the trail from the girl who refused to go on without her cow to the girl who had to ride all the way to Oregon with her broken leg in a pine box. In I'm Sorry, Almira Ann, I tried to show that all women traveling the trail weren't glum. Though most women did, indeed, find the trip heart-breakingly hard, there was also the woman who described it as "easy and interesting" and the boy who wrote in his journal that the women walked out in front, "a merry, laughing group."

Reviews Curriculum ConnectionsNotes
Primary Resources -- Journals from the Oregon Trail
Family Connections to the Oregon Trail