Book suggestions needed
April 2, 2017 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Looking for books suitable for 10-12 year-old girls about American settlers and pioneers, the experience of Native Americans during the that time, or the American West in general.

In conjunction with the solar eclipse this summer we are taking a trip from Minnesota, through South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. The girls have grown up in Europe so they haven't been exposed to much American history. I want to use the trip as an opportunity to expand their knowledge about the westward expansion of America and the experience of the people who made the trip west as well as the experience of the Native Americans who were displaced. All that comes to mind off-hand are the Laura Ingles Wilder books. Hopefully there are other books about this time period with women characters with agency.
posted by pandabearjohnson to Education (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The Dear America series would be perfect for this. They're fake diaries, written by tween/teenaged girls. There are books written from the point of view of white pioneers and Native American girls during the US's expansion/colonization of the west.
posted by damayanti at 12:54 PM on April 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was just thinking the other day about a (fictional) book I read in middle school- Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell. It's age-appropriate but doesn't shy away from talking apart the harsh aspects of the journey. I thought it was great, and a lot of it really stuck with me.

(Ha, and on preview - it's one of the Dear America books!)
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:54 PM on April 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich for the Native perspective
posted by wsquared at 1:17 PM on April 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

This might fit the bill: Alice Rose and Sam by Kathryn Lasky.
posted by Lynsey at 1:29 PM on April 2, 2017

This page has a lot of great suggestions, including some new ones (to me) and classics like Sarah, Plain and Tall.
posted by pangolin party at 1:55 PM on April 2, 2017

You should *definitely* read the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Various abridged versions and a TV show from the 1970s based on the series has cheapened the image of the series for some people, but I re-read these books with my daughter when she was 10 to 12 and it is an astonishingly good, detailed, engaging immersion into the texture of pioneer life for girls. You can choose the books based on where you'll go. On the Banks of Plum Creek is Minnesota; By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter are great for The Dakota Territory. They also passed through Nebraska -- and maybe lived there at times? -- and in any case Little House on the Prairie, set in Kansas, will shed light on Nebraska.
The Long Winter is an incredibly vivid portrayal of how difficult and bleak life could be, but somehow it's riveting.
Two suggestions: as the parent, check out a history such as The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the AMerican Frontier by Annette Kolodny. -- to give you an enriched historical perspective to the women's experience as you read Ingalls Wilder with your daughters. This particular history adds perspective to the character of Ma, who in Laura's young memory can be opaque, and less exciting and sympathetic than the father, who is more obviously adventurous. Why did Ma carry a little statuette from her home in Wisconsin as they moved from place to place in a wagon and settled in difficult situations where a china figurine made no sense? Why did she insist the girls keep their manners eating on a prairie when there was no one around for 100 miles? Kolodny, and other historians, remind us that women like Ma often didn't want to move with their husbands, that they missed their families and communities. Small remnants that Ma insisted on keeping can be read as ways to keep an emotional tie to the socially connected self she didn't necessarily want to abandon.
Also pay attention to the small scenes of encounter with Native Americans and discuss them... Ingalls books don't flesh it out, but your daughters can definitely be guided to detect an undertone of guilt and melancholy as the pioneers have brief encounters with the people who are being driven out by the very policies benefiting the whites.
Here is a website of Laura Ingalls Wilder related locations you can visit on your trip.
Sounds like a wonderful adventure.
posted by flourpot at 2:36 PM on April 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I LOVED those Dear America books when I was that age. Another vote for those.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:36 PM on April 2, 2017

Yes, oh, yes, if they read nothing else, they MUST read the Little house series. I re-read them many, many times as a kid, and 2 or 3 times now as an adult. Simple, straightforward, riveting stories that really let you see what life was like back then.
posted by primate moon at 2:50 PM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I came in to say Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read several other books as a kid about girls whose families were settlers, but unfortunately the titles haven't stuck with me. The LIW books tend to have more focus on the family's experience in different settlement communities; there are other books that focus more on the experience of traveling further west in covered wagons.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink is a fictionalized account of the author's grandmother growing up in 1860's Wisconsin; the main character definitely has agency.

This list might be helpful and includes a section on books written from Native American perspectives.
posted by bunderful at 2:51 PM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Check out American Indians in Children's Literature for critiques of some classics and suggestions of other books.
posted by mogget at 3:03 PM on April 2, 2017

Another vote for the Little House books, though with the caveat that you may want to consider reading with a critical eye regarding the portrayals of Native Americans.

Carole Estby Dagg's The Year We Were Famous might be of interest, as well.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 3:08 PM on April 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I loved Tree Wagon
posted by evilmomlady at 3:09 PM on April 2, 2017

My nieces loved the American Girl series that went with the American Girl Dolls. You don't need the dolls to read the books and I see bags of them at thrift shops and garage sales.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:17 PM on April 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

This series of 3 that starts with 'The Trees' by Conrad Richter was pretty good- the main character has agency, but she must deal with the period's circumstances, too.
posted by JulesER at 6:22 AM on April 3, 2017

Thanks everyone for your suggestions!
posted by pandabearjohnson at 12:05 PM on April 3, 2017

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