Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus

Linda Sue Park, Author

Clarion Books,  Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-12

Themes: Fathers and daughters, Chinese Americans, Racially mixed people, Bullying, Frontier and pioneer life, Dakota Territory, Dressmaking

Synopsis:

When Hanna arrives in the town of LaForge (Dakota Territory) in 1880, she sees possibilities. Her father could open a shop on the main street. She could go to school, if there is a school, and even realize her dream of becoming a dresmaker — provided she can convince Papa, that is. She and Papa could make a home here.

But Hanna is half-Chinese, and she knows from experience that most white people don’t want neighbors who aren’t white themselves. The people of LaForge have never seen an Asian person before; most are unwelcoming and unfriendly — they don’t even know her! Hanna is determined to stay in LaForge and persuade them to see beyond her surface.

In a setting that will be recognized by fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, this compelling story of resolution and persistence, told with humor, insight, and charm, offers a fresh look at a long-established view of history.

What I like about this book:

Linda Sue Park has penned an insightful and  beautifully poignant novel about a Chinese American girl, traveling from California to the Midwest with her widowed white father. The author has placed Hanna in the middle of America’s heartland, where most white people have never seen Asian Americans, but hold an unwavering prejudice against anyone of color, including Native Americans.

I enjoyed Hanna meeting some women and children from the Ihanktonwan tribe and sharing a meal with them before she and her father arrive in LaForge. They grace her with a string of prairie turnips. This scene sets the stage for how people of color were displaced and treated in 1880. Hanna meets them again later in the story when she’s looking for prairie rose bushes and they are digging turnips. (Park includes some of the Native dialogue, during the encounters.) Hanna wonders why it isn’t possible for whites and Ihanktonwan tribe to share the land together, a reflection of her own situation.

Hanna is a memorable, likable, determined and courageous character with a strong voice. She has big dreams of going to school and graduating and becoming a dressmaker, like her mother. She hopes to make one best friend. Hanna has experienced prejudice her entire life,  But It’s still hard for Hanna to deal with the stares, cruel comments, racist attitudes, parents pulling their kids out of school in protest and outward physical abuse. But her Chinese mother’s words are always there to remind her of who she really is.

Park says she intended to write a version of her favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books that speaks the truth for Asians, Native Americans and people of color, who were involved in the settling of America, but were treated second class. Her research is impeccable and furthers the understanding of our country’s long history of prejudice. She visited the town of DeSmit, and some reservations.

Make sure you check out the lengthy “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, which deals with her love and struggle with the Little House books. This is a perfect class discussion book.

Linda Sue Park is the author of Newbery Medal winner A Single Shard and best-selling novel A Long Walk to Water, along with numerous novels and picture books. Ms. Park has been a gymnast, a food journalist, an advertising copywriter, and an ESL teacher, and now writes full time. As an advisory board member of We Need Diverse Books and a board member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she is a well-known advocate for diversity, inclusiveness, and reading. She lives in Rochester, New York, with her family. Visit her website or on Twitter @LindaSuePark

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library book.

Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg

sweet-home-alaska-untitledSweet Home Alaska

Carole Estby Dagg, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Feb. 2, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Pages: 291

Themes: Great Depression, FDR New Deal Colony, Frontier and pioneer life, Alaska, Moving, Family life

Book Jacket Synopsis: Terpsichore and her family are going to be pioneers in Alaska! Times have been tough in Wisconsin during the Great Depression, and she’s eager to make a new start. Terpsichore has often dreamed about living like Laura Ingalls Wilder, but the reality of their new home is a shock. The town is still under construction, the mosquitoes are huge, and when a mouse eats her shoelace, causing her to fall on her first day of school, everyone learns the nickname she had hoped to leave behind: Trip.

Despite all this, Terpsichore falls in love with Alaska — and her sparkling, can-do spirit is a perfect match for the wilderness. When she discovers there is no library, she helps start one, and with the aid of the long hours of summer sunshine, she’s able to grow killer vegetables. With all these achievements, Terpsichore is sure she’ll be earning a new nickname in no time! The only problem is her homesick mom, who misses polite society. Terpsichore is determined to stay put, so she hatches a plan to convince her mother that Alaska can be a wonderful, civilized home…a plan that’s going to take all the love, energy, and Farmer Boy expertise she can muster.

Why I like this book:

Carole Estby Dagg writes a powerful story about the Great Depression and the 202 families that risked everything to settle Alaska’s real-life Palmer Colony in 1934. This lively and authentic story is about the harsh realities of life and work for any homesteader, let alone 11-year-old Terpsichore (Terp-sick-oh-ree) Johnson and her family. Dagg expertly explores the meaning of family relationships, friendships, hardship, pioneer cooperation, faith and home.

The setting is so realistic that readers will feel that they are living with Terpsichore a drafty tent city, traipsing through thick mud, slapping huge mosquitos, shivering through frigid weather and dealing with smelly outhouses. The plot is original and moves swiftly as the Johnson family claim and clear their land, build a log home, barn, and chicken coups, and plant their gardens. Life is harsh and full of obstacles. There is disease, loss and homesickness, but there is the midnight sun that reveals a beautiful landscape and grows very large vegetables.

Great characters make a book and Dagg has succeeded with Terpsichore, who is a brave, resilient, determined and independent narrator.  Her voice and spirit are strong. Although she may not have her twin sisters singing talent, Terpsichore makes a contribution that benefits the entire pioneer colony. She starts a library with the help of her two new friends,  Gloria and Mendel. They contact churches, scout groups, the Red Cross for books and supplies. When the colony needs a doctor and hospital, Terpsichore helps her mother send a telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt, who responds to their needs.

Sweet Home Alaska gives  readers an eye-opening glimpse into a portion of Alaska’s history they know little about.  Make sure you check out the Author’s Note about the early settlers of Palmer, Alaska, in the Matanuska Valley. She also includes some of Terpsichore’s Alaskan recipes and a list of resources. There is a lot of history packed into this novel, making it an excellent book for the classroom.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.