Hattie Big Sky
Larson, Kirby. 2006. Hattie Big Sky. New York: Delacourt Press.
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson is a wonderful historical fiction novel set during WWI. In 1918 Hattie Brooks, also known as Hattie Here-and-There, is an orphan who finds the strength and determination to leave her latest foster home in Iowa and move to Montana all by herself, to “prove up” a homestead willed to her by an uncle she never met. Hattie is a strong girl at only 16 years old and tackles the journey to Montana with great enthusiasm. Charlie Hawley, who is Hattie’s friend from Iowa, has enlisted and is in France fighting the Kaiser. Hattie’s new friends in Montana, the Mueller’s, are considered German sympathizers by a “patriotic organization” the Dawson County Council of Defense. Hattie and the Mueller’s fight blizzards, flood, hail, wolves and burning summers trying to “prove up” their land. Hattie is heartbroken over the death of neighbor’s child but never gives up trying to save her uncle’s farm. The plot is truthful and life in the American West during WWI is not whitewashed.
“My arms wearied as I worked the flour into the stiff dough. My heart wearied, too, that Perilee couldn’t enjoy the good in her life after so much sorrow. If God really was in the punishing game, why doesn’t he send lightning down on the whole danged County Council of Defense?”
Hattie, page 202
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson is told in first person narrative style and is an excellent example of historical fiction. Set in 1918 during WWI, this novel provides a factual depiction of Hattie homesteading her uncle’s farm in Montana after his death. The characters are depicted honestly as they were during this time period with anti-German sentiment and citizens who are members of home councils who try to intimidate those of German descent. The plot moves steadily through the seasons with deaths, heartbreak and the tension when someone away fighting in a war is lost. The setting of the Montana farming community is honestly portrayed as people work and die and try to carry on during WWI. This is an excellent book for young readers. Hattie is an excellent role model for young girls and women. She was brave, she worked hard and she didn’t give up. This is an excellent read for young readers wanting to know about experiences of teenagers, homesteaders and the West.
2007 Newbery Honor Book Award
2006 Montana Book Award
2006 Cybils Nomination
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
2007 Nominated California Young Readers Medal
Larson’s vivid descriptions of the harshness of the work and the extreme climates, and the strength that comes from true friendship, create a masterful picture of the homesteading experience and the people who persevered. Hattie’s courage and fortitude are a tribute to them.
American Library Association
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.
What dreams would lead a 16-year-old to leave her safe home in Arlington, Iowa, and take a chance on a homestead claim in Montana? Hattie Brooks, an orphan, is tired of being shuttled between relatives, tired of being Hattie Here-and-There and the feeling of being the “one odd sock behind.” So when Uncle Chester leaves her his Montana homestead claim, she jumps at the chance for independence. It is 1918, so this is homesteading in the days of Model Ts rather than covered wagons, a time of world war, Spanish influenza and anti-German sentiment turning nasty in small-town America. Hattie’s first-person narrative is a deft mix of her own accounts of managing her claim, letters to and from her friend Charlie, who is off at war, newspaper columns she writes and even a couple of recipes. Based on a bit of Larson’s family history, this is not so much a happily-ever-after story as a next-year-will-be-better tale, with Hattie’s new-found definition of home. This fine offering may well inspire readers to find out more about their own family histories.
Introduce a discussion about WWI. Which countries were allies and enemies of America?
Discuss living alone with no telephone, nearby neighbors or local grocery store.
Contrast and compare how other nationalities are treated in America today.
Ask the reader if he/she would be willing to live as Hattie did.
Larson, Kirby. 2013. Hattie Ever After. New York: Delacourt Press. ISBN 9780385737463
Larson, Kirby. 2008. The Friendship Doll. New York: Yearling Press.
Klages, Ellen. 2008. The Green Glass Sea. New York: Puffin.