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In 1917, Hattie Brooks was a 16-year-old orphan who had spent most of her young life passed from one relative to another. But a letter arrives from an uncle she never knew she had, and everything changes as she leaves for eastern Montana to prove her uncle's land claim.
Hattie was no tenderfoot when she arrived in Montana, but in her first year there, she's forced to battle the hazards of weather -- bitter winters filled with blizzards, and summers of drought and the threat of wildfires. Though homesteaders arrive anticipating a difficult road, one thing Hattie hadn't expected to confront was a seething prejudice among her neighbors. At the height of the First World War, the patriotism and loyalty of German-Americans was suspect, and Hattie finds herself at the center of an unsubstantiated hatred for one of her neighbors, a man who has shown her nothing but kindness.
Larson's Hattie is based on the life of her great-grandmother, who proved a claim in Montana when she was just a girl. Drawn from historical documents and the diaries of former area residents, Hattie Big Sky carries with it an authenticity akin to the Little House books, but with a more complex structure and themes suitable for an older audience. One thing we can promise: Hattie Big Sky will lay "claim" to the hearts of Larson's readers. (Holiday 2006 Selection)
Larson's vivid descriptions of the harshness of the work and the extreme climates, and the
strength that comes from true friendship, create a masterful picture of the homesteading experience and the people who persevered. Hattie's courage and fortitude are a tribute to them.
American Library Association
Larson, whose great-grandmother homesteaded alone in Montana, read dozens of homesteaders' journals and based scenes in the book on real events. Writing in figurative language that draws on nature and domestic detail to infuse her story with the sounds, smells, and sights of the prairie, she creates a richly textured novel full of memorable characters.
Children's Literature - Elisabeth Greenberg
Hattie "Neither Here Nor There," orphaned at age five, has been farmed out to various relatives right up to age sixteen. Then she faces a dramatic turning point in her life. Her aunt (by marriage, thank goodness!) Ivy wants to farm Hattie out to help in Iantha Wells's boardinghouse; Hattie resists as she wants to finish school; her mother's brother bequeaths her a Montana land claim, a steadfast horse named Plug, and a contemptible cow known as Violet. With the blessing of her uncle (thank goodness he's a relative and a friendly one), Hattie takes off for the big skies of Montana, the warm comfort of a German American neighbor, the nefarious schemes of another smooth-talking handsome but angry young man, and long letters from her childhood friend Charlie, serving in Europe in World War 1. This well-researched and gripping novel firmly places its lively heroine in loneliness and debt on her rugged uncle's land claim. Her few excursions to the local village for supplies and celebrations confront her with the anger against German speakers and the unfairness of those in authority. Long days spent watering, digging, fencing, and counting her pennies should win her a home and full possession of her land, but, realistically, most land claimants didn't fulfill the necessary requirements within three years, and Hattie loses her land after all her hard work and perseverance. However, in just one year on the Montana land, she discovers what true friendship and family mean by standing by her neighbors. Her friend Charlie writes that he is longing to come home from the war to see her (and not that flirty girl Mildred), and she realizes just how wonderful her life might be in future. Her discoveryof enormous strength within herself as she makes independent decisions on what is right, how to lead her life, and build her character makes this a delightful and empowering book for young women who will enjoy some of the eccentric Montana characters as much as Hattie's forthrightness and intimate concerns.
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2006: Imagine Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie being all alone, a teenager, trying to establish a homestead in Montana. Larson has a grandmother in her family who did just that, and Hattie Big Sky is based on that woman’s experiences. Hattie’s uncle died before he could finish the requirements to own the homestead outright, and he wills his claim to young Hattie, an orphan who longs for her own home. Here is her chance. Fortunately, Hattie finds neighbors who become like family. It is 1917, the country is at war, and German immigrants are suspect as traitors. There are many such immigrants in Montana, and there are vigilantes trying to make anyone with a German name leave the area. Hattie’s next-door neighbors, who help her survive, include a man who is German, so the persecution comes close to her, even threatening her own home because she refuses to turn her back on her neighbors. Throughout the story, she writes letters to Charlie from her hometown in Iowa. Charlie has been sent as a young soldier to fight the war in France, so he too is being tried to his own limits of endurance. The details of Hattie’s care for her livestock, for planting, harvesting, worrying over money, dealing with intense cold in the winter and drought in the summer, are vivid, which is probably why I was reminded of the Little House books while reading this. Hattie’s strength and intelligence, her courage and loyal friendship make her a real hero. An unusual YA novel, an old-fashioned one, but moving and inspiring all the same. (Newbery Honor Book; ALA Best Book for YAs.) Reviewer: Claire Rosser
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)
School Library Journal
Sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks does her best to improve her late Uncle Chester's homestead claim in eastern Montana in this recording of Kirby Larson's Newbery Honor Book (Delacorte, 2006) set in 1918. Homesteading is always hard, but it's even more difficult for a woman going it alone during World War I. Hattie's life is full of never-ending chores, including fencing and cultivating the land, and she must find the strength to fend off the schemes of a neighboring rancher to buy out her claim. The hardships and trials the teen faces are balanced by the friends she makes, including the Muellers, who encounter anti-German sentiment. Larson's inclusion of this element provides added realism to the novel. The ideas of patriotism, loyalty, and morality during war are explored in an obvious parallel to today's war in Iraq. Letters from Hattie's school chum Charlie, who is stationed in France, and her Uncle Holt in Iowa keep the story from feeling isolated. Actress Kirsten Potter provides deft narration, giving a few characters distinctive voices, but for the most part, she lets the story's own cadence carry it along. Some of the recipes mentioned, a bibliography, and a short explanatory note round off the recording. A very good choice for both public and school libraries.
Charli OsborneCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
What dreams would lead a 16-year-old to leave her safe home in Arlington, Iowa, and take a chance on a homestead claim in Montana? Hattie Brooks, an orphan, is tired of being shuttled between relatives, tired of being Hattie Here-and-There and the feeling of being the "one odd sock behind." So when Uncle Chester leaves her his Montana homestead claim, she jumps at the chance for independence. It's 1918, so this is homesteading in the days of Model Ts rather than covered wagons, a time of world war, Spanish influenza and anti-German sentiment turning nasty in small-town America. Hattie's first-person narrative is a deft mix of her own accounts of managing her claim, letters to and from her friend Charlie, who is off at war, newspaper columns she writes and even a couple of recipes. Based on a bit of Larson's family history, this is not so much a happily-ever-after story as a next-year-will-be-better tale, with Hattie's new-found definition of home. This fine offering may well inspire readers to find out more about their own family histories. (acknowledgments, author's note, further reading) (Fiction. 12-15)
From the Publisher
★ “Larson creates a masterful picture of the homesteading experience and the people who persevered.”–School Library Journal, Starred
Read an Excerpt
December 19, 1917 Arlington, Iowa
Miss Simpson starts every day with a reminder to pray for you—and all the other boys who enlisted. Well, I say we should pray for the Kaiser—he’s going to need those prayers once he meets you!
I ran into your mother today at Uncle Holt’s store. She said word is you are heading for England soon, France after that. I won’t hardly be able to look at the map behind Miss Simpson’s desk now; it will only remind me of how far you are from Arlington.
Mr. Whiskers says to tell you he’s doing fine. It’s been so cold, I’ve been letting him sleep in my bedroom. If Aunt Ivy knew, she’d pitch a fit. Thank goodness she finally decided I was too big to switch or my legs would be striped for certain.
You should see Aunt Ivy. She’s made herself a cunning white envelope of a hat with a bright red cross stitched on the edge. She wears it to all the Red Cross meetings. Guess she wants to make sure everybody knows she’s a paid-up member. She’s been acting odd lately; even asked me this morning how was I feeling. First time in years she’s inquired about my health. Peculiar. Maybe this Red Cross work has softened her heart.
Mildred Powell’s knitting her fifth pair of socks; they’re not all for you, so don’t get swell-headed. She’s knitting them for the Red Cross. All the girls at school are. But I suspect the nicest pair she knits will be for you.
You must cut quite the figure in your uniform. A figure eight! (Ha, ha.) Seriously, I am certain you are going to make us all proud.
Aunt Ivy’s home from her meeting and calling for me. I’ll sign off now but will write again soon.
Your school friend, Hattie Inez Brooks
I blotted the letter and slipped it in an envelope. Aunt Ivy wouldn’t think twice about reading anything she found lying around, even if it was in my own room, on my own desk.
“Hattie,” Aunt Ivy called again. “Come down here!”
To be on the safe side, I slipped the envelope under my pillow, still damp from my good cry last night. Not that I was like Mildred Powell, who hadn’t stopped boo-hooing since Charlie left. Only Mr. Whiskers and my pillow knew about my tears in the dark over Charlie. I did fret over his safety, but it was pure and sinful selfishness that wet my eyes at night.
In all my sixteen years, Charlie Hawley was one of the nicest things to happen to me. It was him who’d stuck up for me when I first came to live with Aunt Ivy and Uncle Holt, so shy I couldn’t get my own name out. He’d walked me to school that very first day and every day after. Charlie was the one who’d brought me Mr. Whiskers, a sorry-looking tomcat who purred his way into my heart. The one who’d taught me how to pitch, and me a southpaw. So maybe I did spend a night now and then dreaming silly girl dreams about him, even though everyone knew he was sweet on Mildred. My bounce-around life had taught me that dreams were dangerous things—they look solid in your mind, but you just try to reach for them. It’s like gathering clouds.
The class had voted to see Charlie off at the station. Mildred clung to his arm. His father clapped him on the back so often, I was certain he’d end up bruised. Miss Simpson made a dull speech as she presented Charlie with a gift from the school: a wool stocking cap and some stationery.
“Time to get aboard, son,” the conductor called.
Something shifted in my heart as Charlie swung his foot up onto the train steps. I had told myself to hang back—didn’t want to be lumped in with someone like Mildred—but I found myself running up to him and slipping something in his hand. “For luck!” I said. He glanced at the object and smiled. With a final wave, he boarded the train.
“Oh, Charlie!” Mildred leaned on Mrs. Hawley and sobbed.
“There, there.” Charlie’s mother patted Mildred’s back.
Mr. Hawley took a bandanna from his pocket and made a big show of wiping his forehead. I pretended not to notice that he dabbed at his eyes, too.
The others made their way slowly down the platform, back to their cars. I stood watching the train a bit longer, picturing Charlie patting the pocket where he’d placed the wishing stone I’d given him. He was the one who’d taught me about those, too. “Look for the black ones,” he’d told me. “With the white ring around the middle. If you throw them over your left shoulder and make a wish, it’s sure to come true.” He threw his wishing rocks with abandon and laughed at me for not tossing even one. My wish wasn’t the kind that could be granted by wishing rocks.
And now two months had passed since Charlie stepped on that train. With him gone, life was like a batch of biscuits without the baking powder: flat, flat, flat.
“Hattie!” Aunt Ivy’s voice was a warning.
“Yes, ma’am!” I scurried down the stairs.
She was holding court in her brown leather chair. Uncle Holt was settled into the hickory rocker, a stack of news- papers on his lap.
I slipped into the parlor and picked up my project, a pathetic pair of socks I’d started back in October when Charlie enlisted. If the war lasted five more years, they might actually get finished. I held them up, peering through a filigree of dropped stitches. Not even a good chum like Charlie could be expected to wear these.
“I had a lovely visit with Iantha Wells today.” Aunt Ivy unpinned her Red Cross hat. “You remember Iantha, don’t you, Holt?”
“Hmmm.” Uncle Holt shook the newspaper into shape.
“I told her what a fine help you were around here, Hattie.”
I dropped another stitch. To hear her tell it most days, there was no end to my flaws in the domesticity department.
“I myself never finished high school. Not any sense in it for some girls.”
Uncle Holt lowered one corner of the paper. I dropped another stitch. Something was up.
“No sense at all. Not when there’s folks like Iantha Wells needing help at her boardinghouse.”
There. It was out. Now I knew why she had been so kind to me lately. She’d found a way to get rid of me.
From the Hardcover edition.