I love exploring the California State Historic Park, Bodie.  It's one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the country and at 8400 feet elevation seems frozen in time, as if people just up and walked away from the 1800s.  I thought it a perfect setting for another boys' adventure (and another family research trip!).  The barren hills roll high above the timberline so there are no trees, just sagebrush and tumbleweeds, hot and windswept.  As we stared through the warped windows of abandoned houses, a saloon, and hotel, my mind raced with ideas and soon I had a plot and characters.

 

Summary:  When 12-year-old Danny and six-year-old Judd lose their parents to pneumonia in 1878, they are sent to an orphanage in San Francisco. The headmaster wants to separate the brothers and send them to different families, but because they have only each other they escape. 

    They make their way to the dangerous mining camp of Bodie, California in the High Sierra to be with their Uncle Hank.  A tenderhearted croupier named Madame Mustache (true person!) takes them under her wing, along with other orphans roaming the raucous town.  When the boys find their Uncle Hank and learn he's involved with a Chinese woman, they realize life with him won't be what they had expected.

**  Glossary and photo.  Short chapters and high adventure for reluctant readers.  Highly recommended by fourth-grade teachers; California history at its finest.

 

[excerpt]:  A bell clanged four times.  Danny felt a sudden rush of warm air as the cage slid down its cables into the mine, the sides of the shaft rushing upward at such a speed he felt his heart race.  He caught his cap just as the wind lifted it off his head.  It was pitch-black for a few seconds, then there was a flash of light as they passed a crosscut on the one hundred-foot level.  For an instant Danny saw miners working by candlelight, picks in hands, then it was black again.  They slid downward in darkness, at every light glimpsing light from the tunnels.