Caroline Takes a Chance

Published in 2012; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrators Lisa and Robert Papps (they're married)


It's finally a warm spring day in May, and the ice has melted from Lake Ontario. Supply ships can come in to port now, especially needed this year because the shipyard is running low on supplies for the gunboat. A supply boat will bring food, too. Everyone is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Irish Jack, wondering if his ship has been captured. Itching to do something, Caroline gets permission to go fishing with Rhonda and Seth. While they're out, they see Irish Jack's supply ship! It's moving very fast, with every man at an oar. A British ship is giving chase. Irish Jack heads for the creek Caroline and her friends are fishing at the mouth of, clearly reasoning that their high-riding boat can navigate the shallow waters. The British boat is intent on following though, counting on the higher-than-usual creek to be deep long enough to intercept the supplies. Thinking quickly, Caroline suggests they move some fallen trees and large limbs to block the creek. They grab what they can, wading in the cold water, but it's not enough. Desperate, Caroline realizes they need to sink their little fishing boat if they're going to keep Irish Jack safe from the British. They drag it as close to the mouth of the creek as they can, and Seth chops a hole in the bottom with his ax. Seeing the blockage, the British ship turns back.

The supplies will make it to Sackets Harbor, but how will Caroline and her friends? As they're trying to figure out how long it will take to walk back, Irish Jack appears, grateful and impressed. He gets them some blankets and takes them home. Caroline is happy the supplies were saved, and the men carrying them, but she feels incredibly guilty for destroying the boat her father made. She wonders if he would be angry with her for it, and if she'll ever get a chance to ask him. 

The victory that Caroline, Seth, and Rhonda scored over the British has cemented a decision in Seth's mind: he's going to join the Navy. He has one set of mail to deliver and then his obligation to his employer is done. Caroline offers to make the trip for him, so that he can enlist one day sooner. She's walked the route with him before and knows the way. Caroline delivers all the letters before noon, and as she eats lunch she notices she's near her father's favorite fishing place. Desperate for a connection to her father, Caroline sets out for it, despite her mother's instruction to come straight home. She reasons that if she hurries her mother will never know about the detour. She reaches the site after a run-in with someone in the woods (from whom she flees, unsure who to trust). Seeing the familiar area is soothing. Then she hears a low moaning sound. There's a man in the little shelter her father built. Unsure if it's safe to approach him, Caroline decides to leave and tell the nearest farm about him. But something makes her go closer. The man is her father!

He's thin and ill, burning with fever. Caroline gets some willow bark and makes the tea she's seen her grandmother serve so many times. He sips it slowly, and she gives her what's left of her food as well. He falls into a deep sleep as night sets in. In the morning, he's stronger and tells her how he escaped from the British when they tried to move him to Halifax in the late fall, by knocking out a drunk guard and jumping out of a boat. He broke his leg getting to shore, but an Oneida tribe was nearby and helped him. He spent the winter with them, and set out for home when his leg was strong enough (although the break didn't heal straight). He used Caroline's embroidered map for guidance along the way, but by the time he reached his fishing site, he was too sick and weak to go further. After another day and night of recovering, they strike out for Sackets Harbor. Caroline tells him what's gone on at home since he was captured, ending with the story of sinking the boat. He understands why she sunk it (of course) and is proud of her for thwarting the British.

It's slow going on the way home, with Caroline's father limping and using a crutch. A little after nightfall, they're finally almost home. Caroline hears her mother calling for her. She helps her weak father lean against a tree and runs to her mother, who is overjoyed to see her daughter alive--and then confused when Caroline says "We need help." Caroline's mother can hardly believe her eyes when she sees her husband. Finally together, the family goes home. 

Looking Back

Traveling around the frontier was difficult and dangerous in 1812. Going by water was actually the fastest and most comfortable and often safest, especially for long distances. Because they lived so far from other people, settlers on the frontier often had to do without doctors, schools, or other now-commonplace things. Mail was irregular too, and getting some was a huge event. Because they were so cut off, frontier settlers had to be self-reliant, knowing their way around their areas and how to use medicinal plants.


This book is dedicated to "Scott and Meghan, for their faith and support."

Amelia takes a nap. What's with all these four-year-olds who nap? Where do I get one of those?

Caroline's mother makes Seth a lunch the morning he sets out to enlist (he doesn't have any family and the Abbotts have always considered him welcome in their home). Rumor has it that Navy food isn't very good. Today the Navy is said to have great food relative to the other US military branches. An Army cadence I know goes "GI food, GI gravy....gee, I wish I joined the Navy."

I've never read this before and was genuinely surprised that the man in the shelter was Caroline's father.

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