The Crossing

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
The Crossing Book Poster Image
Historic journey comes alive with poetic words, vivid art.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author includes a note at the end of her book describing Jean Baptiste's journey with his mother Sacagawea and Lewis and Clark. Parents and teachers should consider reading this part of the book aloud to kids first so they can better understand Jean Baptiste's amazing story.

Positive Messages

Readers will appreciate America's natural beauty -- and extreme and sometimes harsh diversity -- captured both by the poetic text and striking illustrations.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jean Baptiste and his mother, Sacagawea, are described in the author's note as "helping the pioneers Meriweather Lewis and William Clark find a passage to the west coast," which also details a time where Sacagawea's quick thinking and bravery saved the journey. Indeed, the book's pictures show her to be both a useful guide and a loving mother.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is the story of Lewis and Clark's journey as imagined from the perspective of Sacagawea's infant son. The author includes a note at the end of her book describing their journey historically. Parents and teachers should consider reading this part of the book aloud to kids first so they can better understand Jean Baptiste's amazing story. This is a book probably best read aloud, even to elementary students: Kids will better appreciate the language, art, and story when shared this way.

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What's the story?

This is an unusual picture book that captures the sights, sounds, and feelings of a famous journey. "Rolled in a rabbit hide," infant Jean Baptiste travels on the back of his mother, Sacagawea, as she helps guide pioneers Lewis and Clark to the West Coast. Along the way, he sees powerful waterfalls and fierce animals, shivers while riding on cold water, plays among whale bones -- and is rocked by loving hands.

Is it any good?

This is a book best shared aloud. Older kids will appreciate Napoli's poetic narrative best after first hearing the author's note at the back of the book and understanding the context; younger audiences may just like to hear the sound of her vivid words: "Red cedars brush the air./ Eagles float/ in clouds and blue/ of a never-ending, sun-drenched sky,/ bleaching the cliffs white./Scream, hiss!/ Cougars prowl in my dreams."

Madsen's illustrations are a good match for the tone of the story and its subject matter: His pictures have both a warm and historical quality about them, whether showing members of Lewis & Clark's party carefully burning trees to make dugouts, or gathered around a campfire, translating each other's stories as "quick tongues make friends."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why the author chose Jean Baptiste to narrate this story. How would the book have been different if Sacagawea told it? Or Lewis or Clark?

  • How is Jean Baptiste's world different than yours? What sorts of things did he see in his long journey through America -- and what would you see today? 

  • How would a baby traveling on his mother's back experience the world differently than, say, an infant traveling in a car seat?

Book details

For kids who love picture books

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