Julie's Journey

Published in 2007; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley


It's the summer of 1976, and Julie and Tracy are about to take their first airplane trip, to Pittsburgh, PA. There, they'll meet up with their aunt, uncle, and cousins to join a wagon train heading a little less than three hundred miles east to Valley Forge for the US Bicentennial celebration, commemorating America's two hundredth birthday. As the plane makes its way across the country, Julie thinks about the people who sacrificed to found and build the US, and feels a connection to her country's past.

In Pennsylvania, Julie's happy to learn that her twelve-year-old cousin April and she both enjoy Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and the TV show (so very loosely) based on them. April even offers to teach Julie to ride a horse, although once Julie sees how gigantic they are when she meets her eighteen-year-old cousin Jimmy's horse Hurricane, she's pretty intimidated. She's still very excited to be part of the wagon train, though. She signs a rededication pledge, indicating that she agrees with the principle the US was founded on: freedom and equality. She's also awed to learn that President Ford will be at Valley Forge. She might get to see him in person! 

As the days pass on the wagon train, Julie enjoys getting to know April. She also gets used to Hurricane and one day rides him. But he goes too fast for her, and she falls off him. April laughs at it all, but Julie's angry with April for letting go of Hurricane's halter. She refuses to talk to her for the rest of the day, and vows never to ride a horse again. A talk with her aunt about Julie's great-great-great-grandfather who was a rider for the Pony Express cheers Julie up a little and she admits to herself that the fall probably did look a little funny, if only in retrospect. But she's still not going to ride Hurricane again!

The next day their wagon gets stuck in a pot-hole as they're nearing camp. It's getting dark, and they have to unload the wagon and push to help the horse get the wagon wheel back on the road. But they have to leave some of their things behind, because the full load will be too much for the horses to pull up the rest of the steep incline to camp. But they do make it to camp, and are able to keep up with the wagon train from then on. Eight days later they're in Hershey, PA. Julie still won't ride Hurricane again, but does feed him treats of apple cores. 

The wagon train is going to stay Hershey for two night, to let the horses rest and the people relax at Hersheypark. But Julie remembers reading a newspaper article about Pennsylvania's oldest resident, 101-year-old Mr. Witherspoon. Wouldn't his signature be great to have on the rededication pledge? But he lives ten miles away, too far to walk. However...what if Julie and April took Hurricane to visit him? Before Julie can lose her nerve, she and April get permission and set out. With April guiding her, Julie learns to ride the horse, and they reach Mr. Witherspoon's. He's touched that they've come out of their way for his signature, and obliges. He also shows them something special: his great-great-great-grandfather was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and he has a copy of it! The representative for the Pennsylvania portion of the wagon train is thrilled to have Mr. Witherspoon's signature.

But when they reach Valley Forge on July 3, the scroll bearing it is gone. Suspicions are that a Mr. Higgins, who's been disrespectfully trying to pawn off little things from the wagon train as souvenirs, has stolen it. He was trying to buy Mr. Witherspoon's signature earlier, planning to auction it for profit. Julie is able to find his distinct car among the crowd, and confronts him, but he denies the theft (tries to sell her some tacky merchandise, though). Still convinced he's stolen it, Julie despairs about what to do when she overhears someone talking about the wagon train representative from Michigan. He's going to present the pledges to President Ford...because he has Mr. Witherspoon's signature! His things are nearby, and Julie is able to quickly spot the correct pledge by the scribble Mr. Witherspoon made on the back when he was trying to get ink to flow from his pen. She grabs it as the Michigan representative tries to stop her and darts away, returning it to the Pennsylvania representative. He clears things up with the officials, who offer him the job of presenting the pledges to the President. But he counters that Julie should, because she found the scrolls. Julie can hardly believe it: she's going to meet the President!

Looking Back

The historical section is about the bicentennial celebration and the various ways people commemorated it. The most popular was celebration, although there were some, particularly Native Americans, who weren't entirely keen on it. Others were dismayed at the way people wanted to turn a quick profit by branding everything to sell it, even the point of selling red, white, and blue coffins. Furthermore, there was a lot of tension due to Vietnam and various political conflicts. But for the most part, people joined in the celebration, either out of patriotism or because they were looking to the future, hopeful that the country would progress forward to a better future.


This book is dedicated to Regina Shipman Haynes.

Julie points out some difference between the Little House books and the Little House TV show. While the show can be nice brain candy, it always annoyed me that the actor playing Pa was clean-shaven and that all the characters seemed to cry at the drop of a hat. In the books (which I really enjoy and re-read often), Laura often writes about Pa's full beard and also writes about how they were discouraged from crying even as young children. (Which isn't to say that crying is always shameful, but it was a significant part in the books and so a big departure)

One of the 56 men to sign the Declaration of Independence was indeed John Witherspoon of New Jersey. The Mr. Witherspoon in the book appears to be fictional.

The great-great-great-grandfather reminds me of the Mother West Wind books my dad used to read to us, which described long-ago ancestors as "great-great-ever-so-great."

President Gerald Ford died the year before this book was published. His descendants include daughters, grand-daughters, and great-granddaughters. I wonder if any of them read this book!

Though born in Nebraska and mostly raised in Illinois (by his mother and devoted stepfather, for whom he was re-named after--his mother left his abusive biological when Ford was sixteen days old after he threatened to kill her, a move Ford praised her for), he played football for the University of Michigan. That must have made the revelation of the theft all the more embarrassing the Michigan representative!

I understand that a some of Kaya's book titles needed to change because her culture was so very different from the other historical characters, but I've always been disappointed that so many changed with other characters too. This could have been Julie Saves the Day, and Kaya's fifth book might have worked as Kaya Saves the Day--her epiphany wasn't as dramatic as other __ Saves the Day books, though. But I guess if only Kaya had a big departure with titles she'd seem more isolated from the other historical characters.

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