word craft


Hard Gold

Hard Gold

Hype­r­i­on, 2008

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audio book nar­rat­ed by 
Alston Brown

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The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859

What’s this book about?

Ear­ly Whit­com­b’s fam­i­ly needs a mir­a­cle. Their Iowa farm has been in the fam­i­ly for gen­er­a­tions, but a long drought has with­ered their sav­ings and left them in debt. Mean­while, the great Chica­go and North­west­ern Rail­road wants their land, and if the Whit­combs can’t pay their loans, the local banker, Judge Fuslin, will fore­close and sell the farm as his own.

Ear­ly’s uncle (though he’s more like a broth­er), Jesse, thinks he has the solu­tion: to head West and dig for gold. Fueled by reports of prospec­tors strik­ing it rich in the Rocky Moun­tains, Jesse can’t think about any­thing but gold, and his deter­mi­na­tion to get to the west­ern ter­ri­to­ries grows stronger by the day. Ear­ly is wild to go with him, as much for the adven­ture as for the gold. But the jour­ney costs money—more than the boys can afford—and when Jesse flees dur­ing the night, after being accused of a rob­bery, Ear­ly does­n’t know what to believe. Then Jesse sends an elec­tri­fy­ing message—that he has found gold, but his life is in danger—and Ear­ly knows he must do what­ev­er it takes to find Jesse, even if it means run­ning away and join­ing a wag­on train with a strange family.

The jour­ney is dan­ger­ous and full of hard­ships, and the clos­er the trav­el­ers get to their des­ti­na­tion, the more ruined lives they encounter—lives con­sumed by the hunt for gold. Then, to his hor­ror, Ear­ly learns that Jesse has been accused of anoth­er, much big­ger crime and has fled to a secret place in the moun­tains. Some­how, Ear­ly must get to him with­out lead­ing Jesse’s pur­suers right to his door. And even if he suc­ceeds, Ear­ly will still have to make the hard­est choice of his life.

Story Behind the Story

My I Wit­ness series con­cept was sim­ple enough: Fact-dri­ven his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, illus­trat­ed like a text book. The notion, frankly, was to make his­to­ry that much alive for my read­ers: Strong fic­tion, with many con­tem­po­rary images, maps, dia­grams, etc. Iron Thun­der (the Civ­il War bat­tle of the iron-clads, the Mon­i­tor and the Mer­ri­mac) was the first vol­ume. Hard Gold was the second.

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“… What will make this inter­est­ing for read­ers who like action is the relent­less fore­shad­ow­ing of evil and heart­break, the short chap­ters, the trade­mark Avi cliffhang­ers, sharp atten­tion to inter­est­ing (but not over­whelm­ing) his­tor­i­cal detail and the many peri­od illus­tra­tions and pho­tographs.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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if you liked this book, try: