Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

How to get rich in the California Gold Rush

How to get rich in the California Gold Rush

Todd Olson
Illustrator:  Scott Allred 
Historical Fiction
For ages 10 and up
National Geographic, 2008   ISBN: 1426303157

It is December 1848 and Thomas Hartley is living on the family farm in New England. Then word gets out that gold has been discovered in California. Quickly Thomas and his two friends decide that they want to try their luck in the gold fields. Though they have very little money the three young men decide to travel to California by sea as it is quicker. Their ship fare and expenses are subsidized by a businessman who decides to invest in the venture.

And so Thomas, Lansford, and Jim leave their homes and travel to California via the Panama isthmus. Just over two months after leaving Boston the trio arrives in San Francisco. They purchase what they need at considerable expense and journey to the diggings. There are numerous miners already at the location that they have chosen, but they get to work with a will. They soon discover that mining for gold is a pretty miserable business and though they do find some gold, the quantities are nothing to write home about. Their finds barely allow them to break even, and they get blisters, scurvy, and dysentery. Have they made a terrible mistake coming to California?

In this beautifully presented and cleverly written book Todd Olson uses a fictional character to tell the story of what it would have been like to be a gold miner during the California gold rush. The author based many of the stories in the book on true gold rush accounts, and because of this the story has an incredibly authentic feel to it. Though a few miners did make their fortunes in the gold fields, most did not. Men who were lucky and smart found that there was money to be made in California in other ways.

Using period documents and illustrations and an engaging story, this journal style narrative truly brings the gold rush story to life.