Here we encounter four orphaned siblings – Becky, Dick, Phil and Joan – off to claim their beloved late uncle’s homestead in South Dakota. You’ve never encountered a more prepared group of kids as they arrive in Tripp County armed with their uncle’s superbly detailed instructions. And yet they still have ample trials ahead of them - back breaking labor, lethal rattle snakes, epic blizzards, and treacherous claim jumpers. Written two years before Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, comparisons between the two stories are inevitable. Both are semi-autobiographical works chronicling pioneering families, but this felt quite distinct to me. Namely, it lacks the childish perspective of The Little House stories. Although Becky and Dick are just teens they are de facto adults for all the responsibilities they carry.
In my opinion Jumping-Off Place is a well written and genuinely absorbing story – apparently based on the author’s real-life experiences homesteading with her own family. I think the author does a really nice job of blending believable realism with a positive and hopeful narrative. Three stars really doesn't feel like quite enough for this book, but then I realize that I'm comparing it to just the other Newbery books and not all the other books in the world. Compared to some of the Newberys from the 1920s and early 1930s this is truly a bright shining star - interesting, readable, relevant, etc. But, compared to the wide world of children's literature it's probably fairly average - still perfectly enjoyable, but perhaps with some limited appeal considering it’s age and subject matter.