A piece of historical fiction of an incident little remembered today is the subject of the 2023 One Book One Community selection.
The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin reveals a little-known story of courage on the prairie, a freak blizzard that struck the Great Plains, threatening the lives of hundreds of immigrant homesteaders -- especially their children.
The morning of January 12, 1888, was unusually mild, following a long cold spell, warm enough for the homesteaders of the Dakota territory to venture out again, and for their children to return to school without their heavy coats -- leaving them unprepared when disaster struck. At just the hour when most prairie schools were letting out for the day, a terrifying, fast-moving blizzard struck without warning. Schoolteachers as young as 16 were suddenly faced with life and death decisions: keep the children inside, to risk freezing to death when fuel ran out, or send them home, praying they wouldn't get lost in the storm?
Based on actual oral histories of survivors, the novel follows the stories of Raina and Gerda Olsen, two sisters, both schoolteachers--one who becomes a hero of the storm, and one who finds herself ostracized in the aftermath. It's also the story of Anette Pedersen, a servant girl whose miraculous survival serves as a turning point in her life and touches the heart of Gavin Woodson, a newspaperman seeking redemption. It is Woodson and others like him who wrote the embellished news stories that lured immigrants across the sea to settle a pitiless land. Boosters needed immigrants to settle territories into states, and they didn't care what lies they told them to get them there -- or whose land it originally was.
Benjamin, who has nine titles to her credit with another book to be released next year, will visit Alliance on Thursday, March 23. Programs will be held at Rodman Public Library prior to the author’s visit and details will be forthcoming.
Copies of The Children’s Blizzard will be available for sale at RPL by mid-December.