Our whole family has been enjoying the first two books in the brand new Circle C Stepping Stones series from Kregel Publications: Andi Saddles Up and Andi Under the Big Top. While these engaging works of historical fiction are written for kids ages 7-10, even my 16-year-old was chuckling over Andi’s spirited antics. He says that author Susan K. Marlow has perfectly captured how kids think and interact with their siblings.
Each Circle C Stepping Stones book is just over 100 pages long and divided into a dozen chapters, making it easy for young readers still working on reading fluency and stamina to take it a little bit at a time. Your child will tag along with 9-year-old Andrea Carter (better known as “Andi”) and her 3-year-old palomino filly, Taffy, as they ride around their family’s cattle ranch. The stories take place in California in the late 1800s and contain plenty of interesting historical tidbits about life in the wild west.
Our heroine is excited because it’s her birthday. She and Taffy are finally old enough (and experienced enough) to ride out on the ranch without the constant watchful eyes of Andi’s family.
Andi also makes a new friend, a little girl just about the same age, and is fascinated by the freedom the other child seems to have to do the things that she herself is not allowed to do.
But Andi is tempted to betray her family’s trust and do something she’s been expressly forbidden to do…in the end, she learns an important lesson.
Along the way, the reader will also learn a bit about the history behind the tensions between sheep herders and cattle ranchers and about how life was different before the advent of telephones, cars, and other modern conveniences.
The circus is coming to town, which is a big event in the wild west. Andi is excited to see Miss Minnie Mae riding her twin palominos through a ring of fire on the circus posters and can’t wait for the big show.
It turns out that Miss Mae only has one palomino now. One of hers became ill and passed away, so she is riding mismatched horses and, oh, Taffy would be the perfect replacement! Andi becomes concerned that the circus might try to steal away her beloved horse.
Andi’s also worried about Henry, a little boy who works for the circus. She’s seen his boss mistreat him and she thinks he’s a runaway that wants to go back home. She prevails upon her big brother, Justin, to help find a way to help and finds out that her family will go to extraordinary lengths to protect their own.
For each of these books, the author has put together free, downloadable activity pages, which includes a schedule, comprehension questions for each chapter, vocabulary activities, extra historical information, and other learning activities.
We gave the activity pages for Andi Under the Big Top a try. You could easily use it to create a mini unit study built around the book or just choose to use bits and pieces from it. We learned about the various uses for stilts and how they are made, the first trapeze artist, the song “The Flying Trapeze,” telegraphs and Morse code, and more. There were even instructions for making your own stilts out of coffee cans.
There are also free downloadable coloring pages featuring the illustrations from the books.
I read both of these books aloud to my 7-year-old and my 11-year-old, with my two older kids sitting in occasionally.
We have all enjoyed Andi’s adventures. The kids liked learning about being a kid in our nation’s past and found Andi to be a likeable, believable character that they wanted to get to know better. These books are a little too daunting for my 7-year-old beginning reader to read alone, but she has been rereading them after hearing them out loud. I would recommend the Circle C Stepping Stones series for ages 8-10.
Maybe we will try the Circle C Adventure series for ages 9-13 next.
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