The Young Library: Adventurous Boys

Riding High in 1853
Sunday, October 2, 2005; Page TK36
In "The Balloon Boy of San Francisco" (Tomato Enterprises, $16.95, 121 pages, ages 8-12), author Dorothy Kupcha Leland introduces Ready Gates, a gregarious 14-year-old eager to help his family survive tough times.

It's 1853 and everyone is touched by the search for gold. As Ready tells his story, he's about to leave with his father to join a relative on a mining claim in the Mother Lode. Then an accident sidelines his dad, and Ready has to work harder to support the family. He hawks newspapers, helps his mom with her sewing business and picks up odd jobs.

Leland's smart, lively writing and colorful dialogue keep Ready's story moving at a rapid pace. He works in the city's bustling, pioneering atmosphere. He watches ships come and go and pops into saloons, the de facto community hubs. In one chapter, Ready plots to earn $20 by selling his papers in Sacramento, but first he must overcome a dangerous hiding place on the steamboat and the flooding in Sacramento caused by broken levees.

Thanks to Leland's exhaustive research, readers will find themselves immersed in California history.

"The main thing I did," Leland said from her home in Davis, "was read the newspaper for every day in 1853, from January to August. ... It gave me a sense of what was going on in San Francisco ... which was just five years old then." She also read letters and diaries.