In 1844, a gang of starving children arrived at a missionary station in Oregon. With their father, mother and a large group of pioneers they had been heading west to try their luck. But fate harshly intervened and their parents died. When the rest of the pioneers wanted to deviate from the original plan and go to California, the children, under the leadership of thirteen-year-old John, decided to fulfil the wish of their parents and to make the journey to Oregon all by themselves.
An Rutgers van der Loeff read this report in a Swiss newspaper sent to her by a friend. The incident so captivated her that she began to delve into the history. The result was De kinderkaravaan (The Children’s Caravan, 1949) her first book for children, for which she earned a great deal of praise both at home and far beyond.
In her story the author describes how the brave John takes responsibility for caring for his younger brother, sisters and baby Indepentia and leads them across the rugged natural landscape of America. On their march westwards, the children have a testing time, having to contend with quicksand, bears, a forest fire, hunger and thirst. It is thanks mainly to John’s willpower and the rock-solid belief of the other children in their older brother that they still manage to keep their spirits up under the most appalling of circumstances.
An Rutgers van der Loeff was an inspired writer. Her work shows a great sense of social justice. For her, writing meant ‘standing in someone else’s shoes’, and in this way she brought different people and cultures closer together. She believed that children have a right to the truth and so her books were always underpinned by thorough research. Her great commitment and her ability to keep her readers on the edge of their seats with her exciting stories ensure that De kinderkaravaan reads like a breathtaking adventure even today.
By Joukje Akveld