Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hattie Big Sky - historical fiction, with strong girl power

I love historical fiction. I can absorb the feel of a particular point in history, and truly gain an understanding of the events. This summer, my 10 year old and I really enjoyed reading/listening to Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Lawson - a story that shows what it would have been like to try to "prove" a homesteading claim in Montana.

Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Lawson
NY: Delacorte Press, 2006. 288 pages.
NY: Listening Library, 2007,
2007 Newbery Honor Book
ages 12 - 16
Sixteen-year old Hattie Brooks has been an orphan from a young age, bouncing from relative to relative. One day, out of the blue, she receives a letter from her long-forgotten uncle giving her his homestead claim in eastern Montana. He writes,
"You will think I have never thought of the niece in Iowa. But this letter will show you I have. If you come out here to Vida, you will find my claim. I trust you've enough of your mother's backbone to meet the remaining requirements. If you do - an you have one year to do it - 320 Montana acres are yours."
The pull is strong - Hattie has never had a place to call her own, and this is her chance. She dives right in, not realizing what's at stake. When she arrives, she finds out that she must plant 40 acres, and build 480 rods of fence in order to "prove" her claim.

This book will appeal to girls who like historical fiction like the Little House books, Julie of the Wolves, or Island of the Blue Dolphins. Kirby Lawson, the author, has developed characters that I really cared about and could feel for. Hattie could not survive without the help and support of her neighbors, Perilee and Karl Mueller. But the year is 1916, and the United States is consumed with supporting the troops fighting in World War I. In this small Montana community, many are suspicious of Karl because of his German accent. Hattie is torn - she knows that Karl is a good man, but should she risk her own safety to stand up to him?

I loved the suspense in seeing whether Hattie could "prove" her claim, and watching Hattie grow as she understands the discrimination against Karl and stands up to it. I also really liked how this book is not about easy answers or happy endings. Here's a book trailer put together by the Palos Verdes Library District, and gives a nice feel.
To read this book, you can look at Google Books. To read another review, check out Everyday Reading: "This was the perfect weekend book - real, honest, and so likable I wanted to cry." Another fun review is by Betsy Bird at Fuse#8: "I mean, isn’t this one of the coolest ideas? You strike out into the great big world, just you and your cat, to make a living. You’re young and you tend your homestead and deal with nature one-on-one." My copy came in hardback and audio CD from our local library. You can find it at your local public library, independent bookstore or Amazon.


  1. Not only did I enjoy this book BUT my 87 year old mother in law loved it and my mother loved it.

    This trailer is terrific too. Thank you so much for featuring it here. What I like is how the each photo has an attribution. What a terrific example of how these things should be done and how sources should be credited. This would be a good one to share with students.

  2. Isn't it great when books can cross generations. It's so empowering to kids when we adults read the books they like. When my daughter got hooked on the audiobook, I moved this to the top of my reading pile.

    I loved the trailer, too - was thrilled to find it. And yes, it would be a great one to share with students. thanks for your comment!