Old Sam, Dakota Trotter

Book cover: 'Old Sam, Dakota Trotter'
Don Alonzo Taylor
Bethlehem Books
Number of pages: 
198 pages
Grade / Age level: 

This Bethlehem Budget Book contains two books in one softcover volume: Old Sam, Thoroughbred Trotter (copyright 1955) and Old Sam and the Horse Thieves (copyright 1967).

Old Sam is the story of two young boys (ages 10 and 12) living in the wild Dakota Territory of the 1880s and their crippled - but extremely capable - horse named Old Sam. They are based on the author's own homesteading experiences as a young boy. Although there are similarities in time and location, unlike the Little House books which focus so much on family life, the Old Sam books are more like adventure stories about the two boys and their horse exploring the strange untamed land around them, "hunting" for wild animals and "bad guys" and proving to others how great Old Sam really is. A delightful story even on a very simple level, with many funny and interesting plot twists (I had to re-read favorite chapters aloud to Daddy at dinner time under persistent urging from my children), the book also portrays an important historical look at pioneer life and the author shares wisdom in experiences relating to using one's head, dealing with neighbors and the importance of courage, fortitude and basic competence. Naturally, the book makes especially great reading for boys and horse-lovers. Our family enjoyed this book so much as a read aloud that my husband and I ordered a number of copies for Christmas presents for our godchildren.

The second story focuses on Johnny and Old Sam's role in unraveling the problem of a band of horse-thieves plaguing the neighborhood. Although still quite young, Johnny's competence and fairness earn him the respect of the Sheriff and other important men of the town. A really great story, this is bound to be a family favorite. It is the sort of story that will likely help reluctant readers (especially boys in mid-grade school) learn to appreciate a really good book. It also touches upon some tough questions about fairness and justice that young readers can grapple with alongside the hero of the book.

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