Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Jumping-Off Place

I grew up 30 miles from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie and could take you to The Shores of Silver Lake. As I got older, I was steeped in prairie pioneer fiction, from Giants in the Earth to My Antonia to Free Land.

So I wonder how I missed this gem of a story, The Jumping-Off Place.

A novel for young people by Marian Hurd McNeely, it won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1930, and was published before Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing her famous series. Set in the early 1900's in Tripp County, South Dakota, the book tells how four siblings head west to prove up their uncle's claim. This land was some of the last opened for homesteading. The heat and drought in summer, the cold and blizzards in winter, plowing the virgin prairie, and dealing with contested claims made this a harsh environment for pioneers. The children succeed by following their late uncle's instructions, working hard, and receiving help from neighbors.

The reprinting of the book by the South Dakota Historical Society features an afterword by South Dakota author Jean Patrick. Patrick gives us historical context and biographical information about the author, who lived in Tripp County for several years before returning east to Iowa.

Jean Patrick will be one of the speakers at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Dakotas Spring Conference in Sioux Falls on April 4. (See previous post for details.) She will inspire and guide others interested in writing for children.

What books about your surroundings are special to you?

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