Hattie Big Sky
Hattie Big Sky
Author: Kirby Larson
Pages: 304
Publisher/Date: Delacorte Press/Random House/2006
ISBN: 0385733135
Genre/Topic: Historical Fiction, Homesteading
Age Levels: 12 and up

Book Review

Hattie Inez Brooks is a sixteen-year-old Iowan who has been shuffled from relative to relative since she was orphaned at a young age. Hattie Here-and-There she calls herself. When a recently deceased uncle leaves her a homestead claim in eastern Montana, Hattie packs up her meager belongings and her cat and moves west.

Hattie spends the next year trying to "prove up her claim." To do this, she must fence the property, cultivate crops, and pay a filing fee. The environment is beautiful, but harsh. Fortunately for Hattie, the hard times are softened somewhat by her neighbors, the Muellers, homesteaders themselves who fill the empty place in Hattie’s heart.

Always looming in the background, World War I demands sacrifices of the farmers as well as stirring strong anti-German reactions in some of the local citizenry. When German-born Karl Mueller’s barn is burned, Hattie refuses to distance herself from the family as Karl’s wife, Perilee, suggests.
It had been something big for me to ship myself out here, to work on Uncle Chester’s claim. But I was beginning to see there were bigger things in life than proving up on a claim. I was proving up on my life.
Larson does an outstanding job of bringing to life the day-to-day details of homesteading on the prairie—from the mundane to the harrowing. In one scene, Hattie saves the Mueller's children from a stampede of wild horses by ripping off her woolen skirt and petticoat and "flapping them like a demented bird in bloomers."
I flailed my arms and wailed like a dime-novel dervish.

The stallion lowered its head, flesh quivering on his massive, gleaming neck. He stepped back. And back again.

My woolen wings fluttered and flapped at the ends of my arms. "Back! Back!" I stepped forward. The stallion hopped back again and stopped. He froze, wild eyes fixed on me. What kind of creature did he imagine me to be? I prayed a fearsome one. I inched forward one more step and gave a ferocious flap. He yanked his head back and wheeled around. He paced and pranced, there on the other side of the creek. Then, with a shake of his powerful head, he launched into a gallop and led his four-legged band in the opposite direction.
In addition to the dangers posed by the prairie wildlife, Hattie must contend with the weather as well. Her crops survive the heat and drought, but a torrential hailstorm nearly proves her undoing. Will she be able to hang on long enough to file her claim?

Hattie Big Sky is a splendidly written tale of hardship and hope and finding one’s place in the world. Hattie is so genuine and believable, she will linger in readers' minds long after the story ends.

A perfect choice for literature circles.

Reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis
©2006 Education Oasis http://www.educationoasis.com

About the Author

Kirby Larson was inspired to write Hattie Big Sky after hearing a story about her great-grandmother’s adventures as a single woman homesteading in eastern Montana. Be sure to visit her Web site.


You may download Chapter One here.