Young Adult Historical Novels: The American Old West


Dime Novel Novels about the American Old West evolved from the short, inexpensive "dime novels" of the late 1800s which romanticized life on the frontier as an exciting, violent competition between young cowboys and "savage" Indians or outlaw gunfighters. The popularity of the dime novels may have had something to do with the large numbers of mostly young men, many of them in their teens, who moved west to find jobs as cowboys or joined the U.S. Army.

Today, authors who write about the westward movement try to offer a more realistic picture of what life in the West was really like. Native Americans are portrayed with greater understanding, especially by authors like Louise Erdrich who have a Native American background themselves. Families also moved westward in the hope of finding better lives.


Abbreviations for Awards and Honors:

ALANCB = American Library Association Notable Children's Book
BBYA = An American Library Association "Best Books for Young Adults" pick
CM = Carnegie Medal
CMH = Carnegie Medal Honor Book
IBBY = International Board on Books for Young People Honour Book
JFA = Josette Frank Award
NA = Newbery Award
SOA = Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction

Jump to:

Settlers Moving West (teens)
Settlers Moving West (preteens)
Native Americans (teens)
Native Americans (preteens)
California and the Gold Rush (teens & preteens)
Texas (teens & preteens)
Cowpunchers, Gunslingers and Outlaws (teens & preteens)



Settlers Moving West (books for teens)

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Covered Wagon

Elisa Carbone, Last Dance on Holladay Street (2005), about a girl who goes to Denver, Colorado, in 1878 to look for her mother and finds her working in a house of ill repute. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Kathryn Lasky, Beyond the Divide (1983), about a fourteen-year-old Amish girl who leaves Pennsylvania with her father in 1849 to travel west by wagon train. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Victoria McKernan, The Devil’s Paintbox (2009), about a sixteen-year-old boy and his younger sister who leave Kansas, after struggling to survive there after their parents die, and set out on the Oregon Trail. Recommended for ages 13-17. BBYA

Elizabeth Rees, Plainsong for Caitlin (1996), historical romance about a fifteen-year-old girl who moves to Nebraska with her sister after their father dies in 1872, where she falls in love with the man her sister is supposed to marry. Recommended for teens.

Shelly Ritthaler, Heart of the Hills (1996), historical romance about a sixteen-year-old girl who goes to Wyoming Territory to help out her pregnant aunt and, while longing to return to her fiancé, meets a cowboy for whom she has strong feelings. Recommended for teens.

Shelly Ritthaler, With Love, Amanda (1997), historical romance about a sixteen-year-old girl who takes a teaching job in the Wyoming Territory in 1869, gets involved in the question of voting rights for women, and discovers the girlfriend of the boy she's attracted to has broken off their relationship. Recommended for teens.

Vivian Schurfranz, Josie (1988), historical romance about a young woman torn between two men, one who manages a Pony Express station, the other a Pony Express rider, when her life changes as the result of a ride she makes for the Pony Express herself. Recommended for younger teens.

Michael Spooner, Daniel's Walk (2001), about a fourteen-year-old boy who goes in search of his father, joining a wagon train going west on the Oregon Trail. Recommended for ages 12-17.

Theodore Taylor, Walking up a Rainbow (1994), about a fourteen-year-old Iowa girl who inherits her parents's debts and a herd of sheep when they die and decides to take the sheep to California so she can sell them and pay the debt. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Jude Watson, Brides of Wildcat County: Impetuous, Mattie's Story (1996), a series romance about a seventeen-year-old girl who disguises herself as a boy to get a job as a Pony Express rider, but realizes she can't keep up the disguise forever when she falls in love. Recommended for teens.


Settlers Moving West (books for preteens)

Darice Bailer, Wanted: A Few Bold Riders (1997), about a boy who travels back in time when he visits a museum exhibit and becomes Warren Upson, a famous Pony Express rider. Recommended for ages 7-10.

Clyde Robert Bulla, Riding the Pony Express (1948), about the adventures of a Pony Express rider. Recommended for ages 8-10.

Mary Cronk Farrell, Fire in the Hole! (2004), about a fourteen-year-old boy in an Idaho mining town who is arrested along with his father when a group of miners blow up the company's mill. Recommended for ages 8-12. SPUR Award


Kristiana Gregory, The Legend of Jimmy Spoon (1990), about a twelve-year-old boy from Salt Lake City who sneaks away from home when two Shoshone boys offer him a horse, and then discovers the tribe expects him to stay and become one of them. Recommended for ages 7-10.

Kristiana Gregory, Jimmy Spoon and the Pony Express (1994), about a seventeen-year-old boy who becomes a Pony Express rider; sequel to The Legend of Jimmy Spoon. Recommended for ages 9 and up.

Kristiana Gregory, Jenny of the Tetons (2002), about a fifteen-year-old girl whose parents were killed by Indians and who, after accepting work with an English trapper, discovers the trapper's wife is an Indian. Recommended for ages 10-12.

Kristiana Gregory, My Darlin’ Clementine (2009), about an eleven-year-old girl living in an Idaho mining town whose older sister disappears one night in 1868. Recommended for ages 10-13.


Jennifer L. Holm, Boston Jane: An Adventure (2001), about a sixteen-year-old girl who travels from Boston in the 1850s to join her fiancé in the Washington Territory and is horrified by the dirt and rough society there; #1 in the Boston Jane series. Recommended for ages 9 and up. BBYA

Jennifer L. Holm, Boston Jane: Wilderness Days (2002), about an Eastern girl living in the Washington Territory in the 1850s; #2 in the Boston Jane series. Recommended for ages 9 and up.

Jennifer L. Holm, Boston Jane: The Claim (2004), about a seventeen-year-old girl who works as a concierge in a hotel in Washington Territory in the 1850s; #3 in the Boston Jane series. Recommended for ages 9 and up.


Susan L. Krueger, Addie Slaughter: The Girl Who Met Geronimo (2011), about the daughter of Arizona rancher and lawman John Horton Slaughter. Recommended for ages 9-12. Review or Author Interview


Gary Paulsen, Mr. Tucket (1969, reissued 1994), about a fourteen-year-old boy who must learn survival skills after he is kidnapped by Indians and then rescued by a mountain man; #1 in the Tucket series. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Gary Paulsen, Call Me Francis Tucket (1995), about a fifteen-year-old boy who joins a wagon train and gets caught in a buffalo stampede; #2 in the Tucket series. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Gary Paulsen, Tucket's Ride (1997), about a teen on his way to Oregon with two orphans when they get mixed up in the beginning of the war between the U.S. and Mexico; #3 in the Tucket series. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Gary Paulsen, Tucket's Gold (1999), about a teen and the two orphans he rescued who are fleeing from a group of Comancheros when the teen is bitten by a rattlesnake; #4 in the Tucket series. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Gary Paulsen, Tucket's Home (2000), about a teen and the two orphans he rescued who meet up with an England adventurer, outlaws and a wagon train; #5 in the Tucket series. Recommended for ages 9-12.


Diane Lee Wilson, Black Storm Comin' (2005), about a boy of mixed race who gets a job as a Pony Express rider to help his family after his white father runs off while they are traveling to California on a wagon train, leaving the mother, a former slave, and their children to fend for themselves. Recommended for ages 10-14.


Native Americans (books for teens)

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Indian woman with baby Elaine Barbieri, Miranda and the Warrior (2002), a romance about a cavalry major's daughter and the young Cheyenne warrior who captures her. Recommended for teens.

Joseph Bruchac, Sacajawea (2000), about the young Shoshone woman who bore a child and served as an interpreter and guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition while still in her teens. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Brian Burks, Walks Alone (1998), about a fifteen-year-old Apache girl's struggle to survive and find other survivors from her band after an 1879 massacre. Recommended for ages 11-17.

Brian Burks, Soldier Boy (1997), about a homeless Chicago boy who gets in trouble with a fight promoter and flees westward, where he joins Custer's army. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Robert Laxalt, Dust Devils (1997), about a California teen who sets out with his best friend, a Paiute Indian, to retrieve a horse stolen by rustlers. Recommended for teens.

Carolyn Meyer, Where the Broken Heart Still Beats (1992), about Cynthia Ann Parker, a Texas girl captured by Indians at the age of nine, and then forced against her will to return to her white family, where her only friend is a twelve-year-old girl. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Scott O'Dell, Streams to the River, River to the Sea (1986), about Sacagawea, the young Shoshone woman who served as translator and guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition. Recommended for ages 12-17. SOA

Katherena Vermette and Scott B. Henderson, Pemmican Wars (2018), a graphic novel about a thirteen-year-old Métis girl who slips back in time from the present day to a bison hunt on the Saskatchewan prairie and the time of the Pemmican Wars between two fur-trading companies; #1 in the "A Girl Called Echo" series. Recommended for teens.

Katherena Vermette and Scott B. Henderson, Red River Resistance (2018), a graphic novel about a girl who slips back and forth in time from the present day to the time of her Métis ancestors in Canada's Red River Valley as surveyors threaten their ability to remain on their land; #2 in the "A Girl Called Echo" series. Recommended for teens.


Native Americans (books for preteens)

Elizabeth Alder, Crossing the Panther's Path (2002), about a fifteen-year-old boy of mixed Irish and Mohawk ancestry who becomes an interpreter for the Indian leader Tecumseh. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Joseph Bruchac, On This Long Journey: The Journal of Jesse Smoke, A Cherokee Boy, The Trail of Tears, 1838 (2001), about a sixteen-year-old Cherokee boy forced to leave his home along with his family and tribe to make a difficult trip westward. Recommended for ages 9-14.

Sherry Garland, The Last Rainmaker (1997), about a thirteen-year-old girl who runs away from her father and aunt to join a Wild West show where she befriends an Indian boy and an elderly Indian man. Recommended for ages 10-14.


Louise Erdrich, The Birchbark House (1999), about a seven-year-old Ojibwe girl orphaned by a smallpox epidemic in 1847; #1 in the Omakayas trilogy. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Louise Erdrich, The Game of Silence (2005), about a nine-year-old Ojibwe girl who lives on an island in Lake Superior in 1850, when white settlers want to force the Native Americans off the island; #2 in the Omakayas trilogy. SOA. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Louise Erdrich, The Porcupine Year (2008), about a twelve-year-old Ojibwe girl whose people are searching for a new home during a harsh winter; #3 in the Omakayas trilogy. Recommended for ages 9-12.


John Loveday, Goodbye Buffalo Sky (1996), about a twelve-year-old boy and a thirteen-year-old girl in the 1870s who try to protect a Mandan Indian woman after her artist husband is killed by a Sioux warrior. Recommended for ages 10-14.


California and the Gold Rush

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Panning for Gold Joan W. Blos, Letters from the Corrugated Castle (2007), about a thirteen-year-old girl in California during the Gold Rush who discovers that she is not an orphan as she had believed, and that her mother is wealthy. Recommended for ages 10-14.

Sharon Cadwallader, Sofia's Heart (1996), a romance about a young woman who leaves the man she loves behind in Monterey Bay in 1845 when she moves to San Diego to start a school. Recommended for teens.

Karen Cushman, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple (1996), about a girl who wishes she had not had to move to a rough California mining town with her mother during the Gold Rush days. Recommended for ages 10-12.

Susan Fletcher, Walk Across the Sea (2001), about the fifteen-year-old daughter of a California lighthouse keeper who begins a tentative, secret friendship with a Chinese immigrant boy in the 1880s. Recommended for ages 10-14.

Alison Hart, with illustrations by Michael G. Montgomery, Murphy, Gold Rush Dog (2018), about a dog who escapes his harsh master and is taken in by a girl and her mother in the mining town of Nome, Alaska. Recommended for ages 7-10.

Kathleen Karr, The Great Turkey Walk (1998), about a fifteen-year-old Missouri boy who finally graduates from third grade and decides to make his fortune by driving a thousand turkeys to Denver during the Colorado Gold Rush. Recommended for ages 10-14.

Patricia Curtis Pfitsch, Riding the Flume (2002), about a fifteen-year-old California girl who discovers a note from her sister, who died six years before, hidden in the stump of an old sequoia tree in 1894. Recommended for ages 10-14.

Cindy Rankin, Under the Ashes (2018), about an eleven-year-old girl sent to live with her aunt in San Francisco shortly before the great earthquake of 1906. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Mairghread Scott, with illustrations by Robin Robinson, The City on the Other Side (2018), a graphic novel about a girl in San Francisco who accidentally slips into the fairy realm, where a war is being waged between the Seelie and Unseelie fairy courts. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Cheryl Zach, Carrie's Gold (1997), historical romance about a girl who falls in love with a medical student while on her way to California during the Gold Rush. Recommended for teens.


Texas

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Emma Berquist, Devils Unto Dust (2018), alternate history about a seventeen-year-old girl in West Texas after the Civil War who struggles to keep her siblings safe after her mother dies of a disease that makes sick people attack the healthy. Recommended for ages 14 and up.

Brian Burks, Wrango (1999), about George McJunkin, a young slave freed at the end of the Civil War who goes to Texas with his family and becomes a cowboy. Recommended for ages 11-17.

Lorraine Heath, Amelia and the Outlaw (2002), historical romance about the sixteen-year-old daughter of a judge in 1881 Texas and a young man who comes to her father's ranch to work off the remainder of his jail sentence. Recommended for teens.

Lorraine Heath, Samantha and the Cowboy (2002), historical romance about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to work in a Texas cattle drive so she can earn money to pay off her farming family's debts. Recommended for teens.

Jacqueline Kelly, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (2009), about an eleven-year-old Texas girl in 1899 who is fascinated by the grasshoppers in her back yard, but begins to realize most people don't approve of girls pursuing scientific interests. Recommended for ages 9-12. BBYA


Cowpunchers, Gunslingers and Outlaws

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Justin Allen, Year of the Horse (2009), historical fantasy about a fifteen-year-old Chinese-American boy forced to join a gang planning to steal a gold mine. Recommended for older teens.

Mary Downing Hahn, The Gentleman Outlaw and Me (1996), a humorous novel about a twelve-year-old Colorado girl who disguises herself a boy and joins up with a gentleman outlaw in order to travel west in search of her father. Recommended for ages 8-12.

Ric Lynden Hardman, Sunshine Rider (1998), a comic novel about a seventeen-year-old boy who joins a cattle drive and becomes a vegetarian. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Sid Hite, Stick And Whittle (2000), a humorous novel about an orphaned sixteen-year-old boy and a twenty-seven-year-old Civil War veteran, both named Melvin, who team up to travel to Kansas. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Waler Dean Myers, The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy (1999), about the sixteen-year-old son of a former slave who becomes a cowboy in 1871 and joins a trail drive. Recommended for ages 9-14.

Denise Lewis Patrick, The Adventures of Midnight Son (1997), about a thirteen-year-old slave who escapes to Mexico during the Civil War years and becomes a cowboy. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Denise Lewis Patrick, The Longest Ride (1999), about an escaped slave working as a cowboy on a Mexican hacienda who gets lost in a blizzard and is helped by Arapaho Indians; sequel to The Adventures of Midnight Son. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Robert Newton Peck, Cowboy Ghost (1999), about the sixteen-year-old son of a Florida rancher who joins a cattle drive during the 1920s. Recommended for ages 12 and up.


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