[Hattie Big Sky]: A Review

Hi y’all!

I am excited to be back with a new review today. It’s been a little while as I felt such accomplishment after finishing my Classics Club list and reviews that I took a little unintentional break. As usual, I find myself behind in my reviews so it’s time for a bit of catch up. Today I back with a review of a Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.

A good friend and neighbor of mine recommended this book to me several months ago. She said it changed her. And I knew I would love it! I bought it before reading it because I was sure it would be great. And it definitely was! In fact, I think it deserved the 2007 Newbery Medal rather than the Newbery Honor. It was that good!

Initial Thoughts:

  • I haven’t read much WWI literature but I aspire to read more. This was a fascinating look at the US home front during WWI.
  • I loved that each chapter started with a letter or an excerpt from Hattie’s newspaper articles she sent back to Iowa. It was a fun twist in the novel. I really enjoyed reading her letters to Charlie on the front. Would have liked even more letters included.
  • Loved that Larson bases the whole story on her own ancestor’s experience homesteading alone in Montana. That makes the story even cooler! And loved the recipes at the end of the novel.

According to Goodreads, “Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle’s homesteading claim.

For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends–especially Charlie, fighting in France–through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a “Loyal” American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie’s determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

I loved the WWI setting and all the rich historical details from that time. I am always looking for more great WWI books, especially middle grade. There is so much WWII literature out there (which I love!) but I find this time fascinating as well. The world that set up the historical context for WWII is full of rich detail and intriguing ideas as well. Some of those details that stood out to me are as follows: the start of daylight savings time, glory of war vs reality of war, food shortages and rationing, German treatment in America, and how to show patriotism. The way people forced others to support the war effort monetarily was intense! As was the unfair treatment of American citizens of German descent. Often, we see Americans portrayed as the heroes of these wars. While there were certainly many heroic Americans, we weren’t a perfect country. People didn’t always treat others with respect. But what I love about this book is that it shows how important and attainable it is to treat others with respect regardless of their background.

Hattie is a fantastic protagonist that I loved getting to know throughout the novel. She begins the story unsure of herself and what her place is in the world. In fact, she even calls herself ‘Hattie Here and There’. But her journey is fantastic! She works so hard to prove up on her claim, she builds great relationships with her neighbors, and tries to do what is right. I loved reading about her experiences baking, milking her cow, fending off the wolf from attacking her cow, reading books, playing with the Mueller children, and becoming a part of a community. Hattie’s experiences taught me so much about homesteading. From the requirements to lay fence and produce crops, to the tight budgetary restrictions she faces, Hattie is always working hard. The labor is intensive and often sounds physically painful. So many things outside of your control can derail your plans to claim up. But the rewards of friendship, self reliance, and creating a home seem to make all the unknowns and all the failures and difficulties worth it. And all those experiences help Hattie become a strong, capable, loving woman.

There are also great supporting characters with vibrant personalities and realistic opinions and conflicts. I thought Rooster Jim was hilarious with his quirky ways, the bicycle incident, his chess games with Hattie, his stinky aroma, and his kindness with the chickens. I loved Leafie because she is a classic quirky herbalist woman. She doesn’t take any crap from anyone and she defends what’s right with loyalty and passion. Even Traft Martin was an intriguing character because he could play both sides and put on a face for others. He claims high patriotism but sometimes seemed malicious and untrustworthy. I loved Hattie’s relationship with the Mueller family most of all. I loved how she and Perilee become more like sisters. I love the way she comes to care for their children. I love that Karl helps her in her planting. And the tragic climax was very moving for me. They are the type of friends that become family and drop everything to help each other.

There are so many interesting themes discussed in this novel in poignant, moving, and well developed ways. Larson tackles many intense, highly emotional issues in this novel. But she does so with grace and respect. Some questions that keep coming back to my mind include,

  • What is patriotism and how do you show it?
  • How should you treat other people? What are the boundaries of racism? Are there reasons to be violent or exclusionary because of someone’s background?
  • What constitutes a home? How much work is necessary to build a home?
  • What constitutes family? Do you have to be related by blood to truly be family?
  • What can I do for my neighbors in times of crisis? Is love the driving force of our actions when faced with fear?

I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for older middle grade readers and beyond. Everything about this novel was a delight to read even descriptions of crisis and difficulty. The ending surprised me but also was satisfying because everything isn’t perfectly tied up and happily ever after. This book offers a lot of great historical details about homesteading life. It wasn’t easy. Things went wrong. Money was tight. Natural disasters happened. And Montana was the land of “better next year.” Overall, a fantastic novel!

What are your favorite WWI era novels?
Which Newbery Honor Books did you love and think deserved the Medal?

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