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About The Book

WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.

When Colton Wescott sees this sign for the Pony Express, he thinks he has the solution to his problems. He's stuck with his ma and two younger sisters on the wrong side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, with no way to get across. They were on the wagon train heading to California when Pa accidentally shot Colton and then galloped away. Ma is sick, and Colton needs money to pay the doctor. He'd make good money as a Pony rider. he also needs to get to California to deliver freedom papers to Ma's sister, a runaway slave. The Pony Express could get him there too...

Does Colton have what it takes to be a Pony Express rider? And if so, will traveling the dangerous route over the mountains bring him closer to family, freedom, and everything he holds dear?

Reading Group Guide

By Diane Lee Wilson
Colton Wescott, a twelve-year-old boy traveling west in a wagon train with his white father and black mother and two younger sisters, has his inner strength put to the extreme test when the family is separated from his father and his mother becomes very ill after the birth and death of a new baby. Colton needs to figure out a way to ensure the survival of his family and begins a treacherous job as a Pony Express rider traveling through the mountains to California.
Family life; Growing up; Multiculturalism; Pony Express; Slavery; Identity; Racially mixed people; Self-acceptance; Frontier and frontier life; West ( U. S.) -- History -- nineteenth Century; United States -- History -- 1815-1861; Pre-Civil War
• How does Colton's experience as a member of a multiracial family affect his life? How does his repeated use of his ability to "pass" for white affect his self-image?
• While the Pony Express isn't in operation today, there are many other challenges we face while growing up. What do you confront in today's world that you see as parallels to the challenges Colton faced?
• Colton was not the only character in the story to face hardships. How did other family members (Dad, Ma, Althea, Jewel) react to pressures of the outside world?
• Working in groups of two or three, look up Pony Express trails in books or on websites. Have each group work on drawing a map of the route the Pony Express followed.
• Make a Pony Express board game with Pony Express riders as the game pieces, including various hazards encountered on the ride. Be creative, and use other board games as models and for ideas for your game.
This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Barb Stransky
© William Allen White Children's Book Award
Please visit for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles.

About The Author

Photograph courtesy of the author

Diane Lee Wilson is the author of Black Storm Comin’ (which won a Spur Award for Best Western Juvenile, was a Booklist Editors’ Choice, a VOYA Top Shelf fiction pick, a Notable Social Studies book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon book, and a Book Links Lasting Connection), Firehorse (which was a Booklist Top Ten Mystery/Suspense pick and an ALA Amelia Bloomer Project pick), Raven Speak, and Tracks. She lives in Escondido, California. Visit her online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 11, 2010)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439107386
  • Grades: 5 - 9
  • Ages: 10 - 14

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Awards and Honors

  • Booklist Editors' Choice
  • CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults Nominee
  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title
  • Booklinks Lasting Connections
  • Maine Student Book Award Reading List
  • NYPL Best Books for Teens
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award Master List (IL)
  • VOYA - Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers
  • California Collections
  • Spur Award (Western Writers of America)
  • Eureka! CA in Children's Literature List

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More books from this author: Diane Lee Wilson