HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson – Review for TWU course

BIBLIOGRAPHY Larson, Kirby. 2006. Hattie Big Sky.  New York, NY: Delacorte Press. ISBN 9780385733137

PLOT SUMMARY
It’s 1918, there is a war in Europe, 16 year-old orphan Hattie has inherited a homestead from an uncle she had never met.  Eager to “prove” herself as required within 10 months, Hattie is alone and building fences, cultivating land and simply trying to survive the harsh weather in Montana.  She learns not only about the land and homesteading but out people and relationships along the way.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS
This book was very “little house on the prairie-ish” to me, but with an extremely strong, though slightly hard to believe 16 year-old that is on her own in the harsh Montana landscape.  I personally had a bit of trouble accepting that, though a strong female heroine on her own, making her way in the cruel hard world is somewhat of a fantasy for many young girls.  What a great escape.  Accuracy seemed to be represented in the history of World War I and the effect it had on the states.

Larson vividly described the sparse Montana frontier, the disappointment met by many setting out to stake their claim, the hard work, bitter cold, harsh conditions.  The underlying storyline seemed to be prejudice.  Hattie’s closest neighbor, Karl was born in Germany and many in the area were  very prejudice against him and his family.  As the story unfolds, Hattie starts to see the ugliness manifested in it.  This keeps the story quite relevant for readers today as we still deal with this issue.

The writing definitely reflected the early 1900′s when accepting a ride to church with a gentleman was reserved for a courting couple, neighbors making an effort to stop by were offered coffee and all chores were stopped.  A pleasant surprise were some recipes at the back of the book and a bibliography with further information on the American west and homesteading.

Overall, this was a pleasant read, fun to escape into and imagine having to live as Hattie did, grueling hard work day after day, never knowing what hardships are going to pop up in your face.  I did find it a bit unrealistic and hard to believe though, this young girl alone and surviving.

REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
2007 Newbery Honor Book
2006 Montana Book Award
School Library Journal starred review
Booklist starred review
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Book Links Lasting Connections of 2006 title
Barnes & Noble Teen Discover Title
Borders Original Voice
2006 Cybils nomination
2007-2008 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award nomination
School Library Journal, starred review  “Larson creates a masterful picture of the homesteading experience and the people who persevered.”
Booklist, starred review “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.”
CONNECTIONS
Hattie has a strong connection to the Little House books and could be compared/contrasted with them.  Starting a unit on WWI with this book could lead focus on impact at home, or simply a unit on prejudice would be a good accompaniment.


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