Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Hattie Big Sky coverHattie Inez Brooks arrives in rural Montana in January, 1918. Behind her is a lifetime of being shuffled from one reluctant relative to another — whenever someone stops needing her help, on she goes. Before her are the remaining requirements for “proving up” the land claim her Uncle Chester has left her. Specifically, in the next 11 months, 16-year-old Hattie must plant 480 fence posts, farm 40 acres, and finish the season with enough money to pay her debts and cover the final fee that will make the land hers.

Hattie takes the challenge eagerly, thrilled to be working toward a home that’s truly her own. With advice from books and neighbours, determination, and especially the help of the Mueller family down the road, it looks like Hattie just might make it. But in 1918, hard work in the fields isn’t necessarily enough to earn the respect of the community. With WWI reaching its peak, patriotism is everything, and suspicion is everywhere. Though Hattie dutifully attends town events in support of the war, and promises far more than she can afford in the war bonds drive, her friendship with the part-German Mueller family means she shares their assumed guilt.

It’s a year full of challenges, some funny, others devastating. As Hattie struggles toward her November deadline, letters to a childhood friend on the front line and Wingfield-esque, “making a go of the farm” articles for a city newspaper in Iowa allow her to interpret and reinterpret her experiences, gradually drawing meaning from the senseless, and preparing to face an unknown future with grace and courage.

I grew up loving homesteading stories, and I’ve become increasingly fascinated by home front stories in the last few years. Hattie Big Sky does a fantastic job of exploring both in a period of overlap I didn’t know existed. If you haven’t yet, read this book — you won’t regret it!

Find more reviews at Nerdy Book Club and Slatebreakers.

Check out the publisher’s Reader’s Guide.

Catch a sample of one of the Wingfield plays:

Watch for a review of the sequel, Hattie Ever After this fall!


Bugs in a Blanket by Beatrice Alemagna

Beatrice Alemagna’s delightful Bugs in a Blanket is a story of diversity – of discovering difference in the world, and learning to take joy in it. 

At the bottom of the garden, in a warm and cosy blanket, lives a host of bugs. Seven adorable having fun at a party.Though a community through proximity, they are not yet a community in spirit: none of the bugs have actually met! Little Fat Bug decides to change this one day, though, by throwing himself a birthday party and inviting all of his neighbours.

Like all good hosts, he throws himself into preparations, high on excitement for the dance party ahead. But upon opening the door to guests, he has the shock of his life: none of the guests look like him! How can this be?? And can fun truly be had when such differences exist?…

Bugs is very much one of those books that work at various points in a little one’s development. With gorgeous, mixed-textile illustrations, it proved a compelling visual read from the time that my daughter was only a few months old. Its simple language, in turn, lends itself well to the (amazing!) memory of toddlers. Finally, its consideration of difference is very much attuned to toddlers’ perceptions of variations all around. And with “Why? Why? Why?” being the phrase of choice in our house right now, the “Because, Because, Because” half of the narrative is especially timely!

For a peek at the story, mosey down to Phaidon. For gloriously crafty inspiration, go no further than your friendly Sewing School

Ten: Staying Home for School

As homeschooling becomes more mainstream, more and more novels are depicting homeschooled kids and teens, either as main or secondary characters. While many of these novels continue to oversimplify the decision to homeschool as being broadly ideological (e.g. based on distrust of what is being taught in school on moral or political grounds), some take a more nuanced approach, often coming to the conclusion that while the classroom has benefits, homeschooling is the best choice available for this student at this time. While the benefit to homeschooled readers of seeing their own (or similar) experiences represented in fiction is somewhat mitigated by the frequency with the novels focus on the characters’ return to school, the generally positive depiction of homeschooling itself is certainly a step in the right direction.

Ida B. and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Kathryn Hannigan
Ida B. (not to be confused with her mom, Ida) has been homeschooled most of her life. When her mother’s cancer makes homeschooling impossible — and simultaneously requires most of her beloved orchard to be sold to pay the medical bills — Ida B. is devastated and retreats into herself, shielding herself from fear and further betrayal by building a wall of anger that soon becomes nearly impenetrable. A heartbreaking and beautiful story less about homeschooling than about a very human response to loss. Still, Hannigan believably portrays some of the strengths and weakness of both homeschooling and public school.

Continue reading

Ten: Going Away to School

Moving to a new place is one thing; moving to a new place where one’s primary job is to prove oneself takes the challenge to another level. Going away to school takes you away from comfortable routines and familiar dependence on others (whether these have been positive or otherwise), and requires you to discover who you are and how you make your way in the world. The characters in this week’s Ten uncover both strengths and weaknesses within themselves and, in the process, begin to understand their unique places in their respective communities.

Battle Dress by Amy Efaw
Andi leaves her dysfunctional family to go away to college at West Point. While the intensity of military life is a shock, Andi discovers that being required to take on challenges with boldness or face the consequences pushes her beyond the damaging patterns she’s learned at home to a place where she can claim her strengths and offer them confidently for the good of her team. Continue reading

When No One Is Watching written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by David A. Johnson

When No One Is Watching coverEnergetic and creative when she is alone, Eileen Spinelli’s unnamed protagonist sings and dances, shows off her basketball skills, and is “brave as a bear / in a cave / in the dark.” When others are around — her classmates, her family, other adults in public places — the boldness disappears and she fades into the background. While others play and argue, she stays out of the way. That is, of course, unless the other is her friend Loretta, who is shy, too. When the girls are together, they make space for one another, and each feels free to play and make noise, even if others are watching, too.

Spinelli’s protagonist is beautifully complex and very relatable. Even readers who are rarely shy have likely found themselves in situations when they didn’t feel quite free to be themselves, and will feel a tug of familiarity when reading When No One Is Watching. For those children (and adults!) for whom shyness is a more frequent experience, the book is a gem, offering a character who understands what it’s like and who finds joy in both aloneness and friendship. Johnson’s illustrations are as exuberant as the child they depict. She is brightly coloured, full of motion from her hair to her shoelaces. The others — with the exception of Loretta — live their busy, talkative lives in softer colours, separated visually, as well as experientially, from the protagonist’s inner life.

Find reviews on Publishers Weekly and Waking Brain Cells.

Read an interview with Eileen Spinelli.

Ten: Guess What I Can Do!

Kids’ and teens’ books are full of characters with talents and abilities that don’t quite fit in. The difficulty of accepting these differences adds weight to the burden of growing up, but it also offers a point of familiarity for readers who feel out of place in life. This week’s Ten looks at the experience of otherness from various angles, with particular interest in the common secondary theme of recognising the power bestowed by that otherness and the importance of learning to use said power responsibly.

Dreamcatcher by Monica Hughes
In the midst of a community of gifted people, Ruth’s gifts mostly just cause trouble. When she starts receiving messages from outside of the city’s dome, however, Ruth and her gifts are proven valuable not only to her own community, but also to another community in need of help that Ruth is particularly suited to offer. Be sure to read Devil on my Back, first. Continue reading

Ingathering by Zenna Henderson

Ingathering coverIngathering tells the stories of the People, from their arrival as refugees in the southwestern US until the choice, generations later, to join their kind on a colonised planet or claim Earth as their home. The People have a painful past on Earth, persecuted at first for their differences (they have a number of powers, both general–like flying–and individual–like the ability to draw another’s pain into oneself) and isolated in scattered communities more recently. However, the stories are presented as told to outsiders, and demonstrate that often the People have found ways to build positive relationships with their human neighbours. Those connected to others like themselves (the title refers in part to the gradual ingathering of the refugees and their descendants into communities) frequently do best in this regard: having found a place of belonging, they are better able to reach out to others.

This collection brings together stories previously published in Henderson’s Pilgrimage (1961) and The People: No Different Flesh (1967), as well as a handful of others that had appeared elsewhere, and makes readily available a body of work that had become rare. Though the world in which they live is familiar enough (at least, as familiar as the American southwest in the 1960s is to the reader), Henderson does an excellent job of creating a people with its own rich history and culture. The sense of otherness and the hope of community combine to make this a compelling read for anyone who has felt alone.

Check out a review by Jo Walton!

And another from a very different perspective. The presentation is dated and the review is very long, but the analysis is frequently insightful.