Riding Freedom

Written by: Pam Munoz Ryan

Illustrated by: Brian Selznick

For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about Riding Freedom and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!



Charlotte Parkhurst never acted like most other girls. She climbed trees and fought with the boys and worked in a stable. She had a way with horses that was like nothing folks had ever seen.

In the mid-1800s, some people didn't think it was proper for a girl to behave like Charlotte, and they tried to stop her. But Charlotte was smart, and she came up with a plan that would let her live her life the way she wanted — a plan so clever and so secretive that almost no one figured it out.

A top-notch horse rider, a legendary stagecoach driver, the first woman to vote in the state of California and probably the United States, Charlotte Parkhurst, known as Charley, was a real person with a larger than life story. Pam Muñoz Ryan's fast-paced historical novel combines the documented facts of Charlotte's life with her own spirited imaginings, and Brian Selznick's drawings celebrate the pluck and originality of this brave and colorful character. Together author and artist rescue a little known heroine from oblivion and bring her vividly alive for young readers. (Scholastic)

Pre-Reading Activity

KWL Chart

Create a K-W-L Chart and have your child fill in the first two columns with information that s/he knows and wants to find out about the story. S/he can fill in the last column, "What I Learned", once s/he has finished the story.

What I Know

After reading the summary of the story, let your child think about what s/he already knows about the story. Who are the main characters? What is the story going to be about? What genre is this story? What other stories fall into this category that s/he has already read? What are some common characteristics of stories in this genre?

What I Want to Know

Include questions that your child might have about the plot, characters and setting. 


Maintain a Vocabulary Journal

Encourage your child to stop when s/he gets to an unfamiliar word. See if s/he can discover its meaning by using context clues like prefixes and suffixes as well as the words surrounding it.  Be sure to keep a “Vocabulary Journal” nearby when reading so that your child can write down new words, that s/he has either already defined or wishes to look up in the dictionary.


Discussion Questions

  1. Why does Charlotte have such a strong connection to horses?
  2. When and where is this story set? How are girls expected to behave during that time period? How is that different from how girls are expected to behave today? How is Charlotte different from other girls her age?
  3. What is Charlotte's relationship with Vern like? How does he help her throughout the story?
  4. Vern always tells Charlotte that "A horse rides the way it's ridden" (pg. 9). What does he mean by that? Do you agree? How can this lesson be applied to people?
  5. How does Charlotte become such an expert stagecoach? Was she good at first? How can you work hard at what you love to become better at it too?
  6. How would you describe Mr. Millshark's character? How did he treat Charlotte when she was a child? Please provide some examples. How does she get back at him when she's older?
  7. Why was it so important for Charlotte to be able to vote? Would she have been able to vote if people knew she was a woman? Why not?
  8. The title of this story is Riding Freedom. What are some of the possible meanings of this title?

Extending the Story

Learn more about Charlotte Parkhurst here! Take notes on what new things you learn about this legendary stagecoach and then watch this video to see what it really looks like to drive a stagecoach. You can also do some research on the California Gold Rush, and try out some of these cool Gold Rush-themed activities.