Prairie Songs

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Overview

The prairie was like a giant plate, stretching all the way to the sky at the edges. And we were like two tiny peas left over from dinner, Lester and me.

Louisa loves the Nebraska prairie, the only home she's ever known. It's a lonely place, surrounded by miles of wild, flat grasslands, but it's the wonderful kind of loneliness that comes of stillness and open sky and oneness with the land. A different kind of beauty enters Louisa's world when the new doctor and his wife, ...

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Overview

The prairie was like a giant plate, stretching all the way to the sky at the edges. And we were like two tiny peas left over from dinner, Lester and me.

Louisa loves the Nebraska prairie, the only home she's ever known. It's a lonely place, surrounded by miles of wild, flat grasslands, but it's the wonderful kind of loneliness that comes of stillness and open sky and oneness with the land. A different kind of beauty enters Louisa's world when the new doctor and his wife, Emmeline, move to the prairie from New York City. Emmeline is the most beautiful person Louisa has ever seen, and she teaches Louisa to love poetry. But she is also frail and unsuited to pioneer life. Louisa wonders whether Emmeline will ever come to love the prairie as she herself does.

Louisa's life in a loving pioneer family on the Nebraska prairie is altered by the arrival of a new doctor and his beautiful, tragically frail wife.

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Editorial Reviews

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
A touching and effective story, with strong characterization and a spare, dramatic style. .
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Louisa's life in a loving pioneer family on the Nebraska prairie is altered by the arrival of a new doctor and his beautiful although tragically frail wife Emmeline. A strong friendship develops as Emmeline shares her books and teaches Louisa's brother Lester to read. Unfortunately, Emmeline cannot adjust to the isolation and hardship of life on the prairie. A moving story of friendship and the struggle to live in the American West.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780064402064
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1993
  • Series: A Trophy Bk.
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Lexile: 780L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Pam Conrad wrote many award-winning books for children, including the immensely popular The Tub People and The Tub Grandfather, both illustrated by Richard Egielski. She is also the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels, including Prairie Songs, a 1986 ALA Best Children's Book of the Year and a 1985 ALA Golden Kite Honor Book, and Stonewords, winner of the 1991 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Mystery.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



The prairie was like a giant plate, stretching all the way, to the sky at the edges. And we were like two tiny peas left over from dinner, Lester and me. We couldn't even see the soddy from out there — just nothing, nothing in a big circle all around us. We still had Cap then, and he stood very still, shaking his harness now and again while we did our work, throwing cow chips into the back of the wagon, me singing all the while.

"Buffalo chips, buffalo chips, won't you marry me? Oh, come on out, buffalo chips, and dance all night by the sea."

Lester smiled and kept up a complicated clicking sound with his tongue and throat.

"Come on, Lester," I told him. "Sing! Nobody can hear ya out here. Oh, buffalo chips, buffalo chips," I sang louder and louder. "Come on, Lester."

But he just shook his head and even stopped his noises.

"Ah, you're no fun at all, Lester, I said, tossing a paddy of hardened dung into the wagon. I stood glaring at him, my hands on my hips, and tried to bully him. "You know something, if you practice talking and singing with me, and pretend I'm someone else, you might be able to really talk to strangers one day. You know that, Lester? Are you listenin' to me, Lester?"

Lester just smiled. "Leave me alone, prairie dog," he said. "Momma says leave off about that. It's none of your trouble.

None of my trouble, ha! He would never talk, and then I'd have to do all the talking. It was always up to me to answer questions that anyone would ask. I used to think I'd try nottalking, too, like Lester. I clamped my mouth shut and folded my arms across my thin, bony chest. But it was too hard, and too hot to keep all those words inside with that sun beating down on me like hard rain.

"Come on, Lester," I said, breaking my silence. "Let's take a short rest before we start back." I got down on my hands and knees and crept beneath the wagon, the only patch of shade for miles and miles. Lester kept on tossing chips into the wagon, and with each thud the wagon would shake a thin sprinkling of dust on my face.

"Lester! I said, have, a rest! I don't like dung dust in my hair!"

The tossing stopped, but I could see the backs of his brown dusty ankles standing slightly apart, very still.

"What are you doin' now,, Lester? Would you get under here, please."

I'm lookin'."

"What for?"

"The doctor and his wife."

I had forgotten all about that, and from my low place in the prairie grass, I looked around, through the wheels, between Cap's hooves, and saw nothing. "Which direction do you think they'll be comin' from?"

Lester dropped down and peered in at me. "New York is east, prairie dog."

"Lester," I said, with teeth-gritting patience, "they are comin' by railroad to Union Pacific Depot at Grand Island. And Grand Island is south, isn't it?"

"Oh." Lester sat down and leaned back against the wheel of the wagon, facing south. "What'll they be like?" he asked.

"Momma says they're probably very refined, and I heard Mrs. Whitfield say that they probably won't make it through the winter."

I stretched some prairie grass between my fingers and blew on it, making a high piercing whistle.

"Won't make it! Why!" Lester was looking at me, his eyes wide and troubled under his straw-colored hair.

"I don't know. I don't think people from back East are very strong, like we are. I think it's hard for them out here — the cold, the hot, the wind, the snakes. They're weak."

"You mean like Delilah?" His voice was soft.

"Yeah, like Delilah, I guess." I thought about our baby sister then, her round flushed cheeks and her blue eyes like store-bought marbles. "Remember how she used to finish her oatmeal and throw the bowl and yell 'all gone'?"

"Yep. " Lester smiled and turned his face away. "You think the doctor and his wife will die, like Delilah?"

"Maybe," I told him. "Either die or go back East."

Lester was quiet. The prairie rang with silence, and Cap snorted and pawed the ground.

"Come on," I said. "I'm hungry. Let's go back."

We mounted the wagon and turned it around to face our house, or all we could see of it from that distance, the red flower of a windmill, beckoning us home.

Cap plodded on, rhythmically and slowly, and when Lester spotted some more chips, he jumped down from the front board. He gathered them up and sailed those pancakes into the back.

"Oh, darn! I never picked any flowers." I gazed off to the east where a thin mist of purple tinted the prairie grass. "Don't you think it would be nice to have flowers for the doctor and his wife when they come?"

Lester jumped up beside me. "Momma says get right back.

"Well, what difference does it make if we stop for a minute just to get some flowers? I think it would be nice, I think maybe they would like the prairie better if they could see the flowers."

Lester frowned. "I don't want to."

"'Fraid of snakes?" I taunted, watching him out of the comer of my eye. "You know, there are snakes out by the chips, too, just like there are snakes by the flowers."

"Never seen any by the chips," he answered. "Just that time by the flowers. Maybe snakes like flowers."

"Oh, they're all over, Lester, even the one that was in the house that time."

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 2 of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2001

    Nicely written

    If you enjoy reading about pioneer life then you will love this book. It's about a family of pioneers living in Nebraska. A family, the Berryman's, move from New York to live on the prairie. Mr.Berryman is a doctor. His wife Emmeline is with child when they arrive. Everyone thinks they won't make it. New York is so different from Nebraska and they will never adjust is what everyone said. But, with the help of Louisa and her family, the Berryman's prove some people wrong. This is a good book with good moral lessons along with inspiration and hope. It's a book I'd reccomend to anyone who has time to read it. :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2001

    Prairie Songs a suprisingly good book

    Even though I started out thinking this book would be a bore, I enjoyed it in the end. Drawing its drama from that of the old Pioneering days this novel captivated me with its plot and strong wording. I would recommend this book to you if you're wanting to learn about the days of the frontier of the western U.S. or youjust want to read a good book

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