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!

Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Beholding Bee coverBee has been part of Ellis’s travelling show all her twelve years. Since her parents’ death, she and her unofficial guardian, Pauline, have been a team. Bee helps with the hot dog cart and looks for a home that will finally get the two of them off the road. Pauline keeps records of Bee’s life and fights to keep her — and her large, diamond-shaped birthmark — out of Ellis’s “Look See” exhibit. When Pauline gets involved with a newcomer, Ellis takes the opportunity to send her off to help start a satellite show that he hopes will boost flagging wartime profits. Feeling betrayed, and vulnerable to Ellis’s greed, Bee takes off, looking for a place to claim as home.

What she finds is the cozy little house of her dreams, inhabited by two old women who welcome her and settle her into the bedroom they’ve prepared. Mrs. Potter offers comfort; Mrs. Swift insists that Bee make something of herself, beginning with school. And here’s where the story really gets going. At school, where she’s placed in the “special” class to avoid teasing, Bee discovers the responsibility of friendship, the satisfaction of being expected to thrive, and the possibility that standing up to a bully may require as much compassion as it does bravery.

Though I wasn’t completely satisfied with the book as a whole, the complexity of the characters and the relationships between them is exceptional. Nearly every character with any significance in the novel has flaws and struggles of his or her own, and each is eventually shown to deserve at least a bit of sympathy. Beholding Bee would be a great choice for a group read, with lots of potential for discussion about friendship, bullying, home, and what it means to be a good teacher or parent.

Read other reviews from Fourth Musketeer, Beth Fish Reads and Kirkus.

The American Library Association’s Association for Library Services to Children recently included Beholding Bee in its list of nominees for Notable Children’s Books. Check out the rest of the list!