Reviewed October 31, 2009.
Delacorte Press, 2006. 289 pages.
A 2007 Newbery Honor Book
I actually met Kirby Larson when I went to the 2007 ALA (American Library Association) Annual Conference in Washington, DC, when she saw my SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) bag and commented on it. Imagine my delight to learn that she was there to receive a Newbery Honor Award!
It took me a long time to get around to reading her book, but when I finally did, I thought the award well-deserved.
Hattie Wright has received an inheritance from an uncle she didn't even know -- a homestead claim out in Montana. "All" she has to do is "prove up" by cultivating forty acres and setting four hundred eighty rods of fence and paying the final fees, and she has ten months left in which to do it.
Hattie takes on the giant task, because the challenge appeals to her much more than being the poor orphaned relation with her other aunt and uncle in Iowa. It's 1917, and World War I is going on, and Hattie writes about her experiences to her childhood friend who is off in the fighting.
Meanwhile, in Montana, Hattie faces all kinds of challenges with weather against her and other disasters. The other homesteaders help, especially Perilee Mueller and her houseful of children. Perilee is married to a man who only speaks German, who isn't popular during World War I. But Hattie can only see their kind hearts. Another neighbor, handsome but not kind to the Muellers, offers to "help" Hattie by buying her claim. But Montana with its big sky is already in her heart.
Kirby Larson based this book on her own great-grandmother's story. It's another pioneer tale, but set in a different time and place than any I've read before. An inspiring story of a young woman discovering her own strength to face challenges and the value of true friends.