Pioneer Girl: Growing Up on the Prairie

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An inspiring true story in the tradition of The Little House on the Prairie.

Grace McCance was three when her family settled in a one-room sod house on the lonely Nebraska prairie. There was hard work for everyone, the nearest water source was two miles away, and disaster could strike at any time in the form of a tornado, a drought, or a rattlesnake bite. Still, Grace thrived amid the dusty soil of the American heartland: "I couldn't have asked...

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An inspiring true story in the tradition of The Little House on the Prairie.

Grace McCance was three when her family settled in a one-room sod house on the lonely Nebraska prairie. There was hard work for everyone, the nearest water source was two miles away, and disaster could strike at any time in the form of a tornado, a drought, or a rattlesnake bite. Still, Grace thrived amid the dusty soil of the American heartland: "I couldn't have asked for a more wonderful life."

01-02 Young Hoosier Book Award Masterlist (Gr 4-6) and 00-01 South Carolina Book Award Nomination Masterlist (Grds 3-8)

Tells about the daily life and activities of a pioneer girl growing up on the prairies of Nebraska.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Susan Hepler
This charming true story is based on the memories, memoirs, and interviews with friends of the Nebraska pioneer Grace McCance Snyder. Born in 1882, Grace and her family moved from Missouri to Cozad, Nebraska, and set up a homestead in a soddy when she was three. While Warren tells the story as a narrative and illustrates the book with well-chosen archival and old family photographs, it is the adventures and can-do spirit of this family that compel the reader. From the inch-long worms that drop one day from the soddy's roof, to the family's camp near the Burlington Railroad construction site in order to earn money for the winter, through blizzards and drought, the family perseveres. Although the book presents some of the same pioneering spirit of the "Little House" books, and Grace McCance would be a contemporary of Rose Wilder Lane, the book stands strongly on its own as lively and immediate history. It could anchor a prairie/pioneer theme in the upper elementary or middle school curriculum. Related reading and index are included.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Grace McCance's family settled a homestead in Nebraska in 1885, when Grace was three. Her funny, exciting, poignant, and romantic life story, as presented by Warren, is based on McCance's own memoir, No Time on My Hands (Univ. of Nebraska Pr., 1986), and other sources, including family interviews. Reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder's tales of life on the prairie, Grace's story relates hardships and hilarity in a compelling mix. How is a body supposed to relieve the call of nature when privies have yet to be built and there's not so much as a bush or clump of tall grass in sight? The girl survives fire, blizzards, and an attack by an enraged heifer. These close calls as well as the daily trials of bedbugs, dust, and a scarcity of water illustrate the challenges of homesteading. Indians are mentioned only in passing. This is a fine personal portrait of one woman's life and a good read. Excellent-quality archival photos, many of Grace's own family, enhance the well-documented text.-Rebecca O'Connell, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA
Kirkus Reviews
Warren, basing her work on the memoir of Grace McCance Snyder about her pioneer childhood in Nebraska, also tells the riveting story of life on the prairie and the determination of the families who settled there. Warren begins with the 1862 Homestead Act, which permitted people to earn 160 acres of land by building a house and cultivating the soil for five years. Despite the draughts, blizzards, grasshopper infestations, loneliness and hard, hard work, the families of the prairie never gave up their hopes. It's all rendered from the point of view of Grace (who lived to be 100 years old): "to Mama it must have seemed poor and desolate I know she must have been nearly crushed by the unexpected bigness of the prairie, the endless blue of the sky, our rough, homemade furniture, and the almost total lack of neighbors." The voice of Grace echoes the spirit of the pioneer families who settled the Midwest: "Most pioneer children did not know how hard their lives were. They just did what had to be done." (index, not seen, b&w photos, further reading) (Biography. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688171513
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1ST HARPER
  • Pages: 96
  • Age range: 8 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.08 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Warren says, "I'm always looking behind facts and dates in search of how extraordinary times impact ordinary people. I think the most engaging way to study history is by seeing it through the eyes of participants. Each of us wants to know, If that had been me at that time, in that place, what would I have done? What would have happened to me?"

Among Warren's honors are the prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story, which was also selected as an ALA Notable Book. She won the Midland Authors Award for Pioneer Girl. Growing Up on the Prairie. A former teacher and journalist, Warren writes from her home in the Kansas City suburb of Prairie Village, Kansas.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Home in the Promised Land

Grace McCance scrambled down the steps of the train, planted her feet on the muddy ground, and looked around. So this was Nebraska! No trees blocked the view, and she liked the bigness of it.

Florry, whose real name was Flora Alice, followed her off the train. Florry was five, two years older than Grace. She stepped cautiously, avoiding mud puddles so she would not get her dress or shoes dirty. Then their mother, Margaret McCance, appeared at the train doorway carrying baby Stella and a heavy travel satchel. She looked tired from the trip. The girls waved at her. She nodded, then lifted her stylish black skirt and slowly descended the steep train steps.

"Poppie!" Grace cried, catching sight of her father driving up in the old wagon pulled by the family mules. She ran to meet him and threw herself into his arms the moment he jumped down. Charles McCance embraced his family. He grinned as he kissed Mama. They had last seen him three months earlier when he loaded the family's belongings into a train boxcar, urged the mules aboard, and then hopped in himself for the long ride to Nebraska.

Folks back home in Missouri said Poppie had "land fever" because he had decided to become a homesteader. The 1862 Homestead Act allowed him to file a claim on 160 acres of public land. If he built a house and cultivated the soil, In five years the land would be his. Men or women who were single or heads of households could file a homestead claim as long as they were twenty-one and were either citizens or immigrants who planned to become citizens. Early in the spring of 1885, Poppie had found his claim nearthe town of Cozad in central Nebraska. He paid the ten-dollar filing fee and set to work. His first task had been to build a house so he could send for his family-and now they were here.

Everyone settled into the wagon, and Poppie turned the mules toward the northwest. When they stopped several hours later, Grace woke up from a nap. She thought they must be in the middle of nowhere. She recalled in her memoir, "I can still see the homestead as it looked when we pulled into it that day-just two naked little soddies squatting on a bare, windswept ridge.... Not another building in sight, not a tree, not an animal, nothing but grassy flats and hills."

The "soddies" were built of blocks of compacted sod Poppie had cut from the earth. The smaller one was a stable. The other was a twelve-by-fourteen-foot room: their new home. It was smaller than Grandmother Blaine's parlor in Missouri. Grace stared at the tiny house. The wind whipped around them, its sound a mournful wail. For a moment she felt unsure about this new place.

Then she saw her cat, Old Tom, who had made the trip with Poppie and the mules, and a moment later she and Florry were running through the prairie grass, laughing. Darting ahead of Mama and Poppie, they explored the house, happy to see the cookstove and the familiar belongings from their old house. Later they walked with Mama and Poppie to see the field Poppie was readying for corn planting. Poppie kept saying this was land where anything would grow. Mama was quiet. The only thing she asked about was a school, but Poppie said the girls were still too young for school, and by the time they were old enough, he figured there would be one.

Thinking back on that first day, Grace realized that, for herself and Florry, "it was all new and interesting, but to Mama it must have seemed poor and desolate. She had grown up among the green fields and woods of Missouri, where she lived in a big white house. She liked nice things, good food, pretty clothes, handsome furniture. I know she must have been nearly crushed by the unexpected bigness of the prairie, the endless blue of the sky, our rough, homemade furniture, and the almost total lack of neighbors."

Many settlers were crushed by the experience of homesteading.

The plains and prairies of the Midwest, stretching from the Missouri River on the cast to the Rocky Mountains on the west, challenged the most hardy of pioneers. It was country where the wind blew constantly, where few trees grew, where it froze in winter and baked in summer, and where water was scarce. As Grace would learn, anyone who settled there eventually got acquainted with drought, grasshoppers, rattlesnakes, stampedes, prairie fires, dust storms, hail, floods, tornadoes, and blizzards.

Even when the government started the great homestead giveaway to attract settlers to the middle part of the country, many folks wondered why anyone would bother. Most pioneers just passed right through the Midwest on their way to the Far West. Those who stayed were often defeated. One farmer scrawled across the cabin door of his deserted claim, "250 miles to the nearest post office, 100 miles to wood, 20 miles to water, 6 inches to hell. Gone to live with wife's folks."

But whatever Mama thought of the homestead, she was there to stay. She knew what the land meant to her husband. Poppie had been poor all his life. His father had died when Poppie was young, and his mother had struggled to raise her big family. This was his chance to have something of his own. Mama could see how hard he had worked to build the house and to start breaking up the tough sod. She would do her part as well.

According to Grace, "Mama was the kind who always did the best she could with what she had." For the one window on each wall, Mama made curtains out of bleached flour sacks on which she embroidered red birds. She arranged the bed, the cradle, the cookstove, and her sewing machine. She made shelves out of boxes and displayed the English teacup that...

Pioneer Girl. Copyright © by Andrea Warren. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2004

    A great book

    Pioneer Girl is a wonderful true story about a young girl named Grace and her family surviving the hardships and discouragement that came with living on the large and lonely Nebraska plains in the 1800's. The book begins with Grace as a small child just arriving in Nebraska. From there you travel through the rest of her life- her sadness of the death of her sister, her marriage, and much much more. This book taught me a lot about the joys and sorrows that the brave and courageous pioneers had to go through. This is a very good book and Ive read it several times.

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