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Hattie Big Sky    by Kirby Larson order for
Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Larson
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

After learning about her great-grandmother homesteading in eastern Montana and three years of research, Kirby Larson brought to life sixteen-year-old Hattie Inez Brooks. Set in 1918, Hattie Big Sky is narrated by a young girl, orphaned at an early age, and living between relatives - she refers to herself as Hattie Here-and-There.

When a letter arrives from a never-met maternal uncle deeding her acres of homesteading property, Hattie leaves Iowa behind, taking bag and baggage - including her cat Whiskers - to Vida, Montana. At the train station in Wolf Point, Hattie is met by homesteading neighbors Perilee and Karl Mueller and their three children. The Muellers knew Hattie's Uncle Chester, and had promised to mail his letter and deed to his niece upon his death. For the first time in her life, Hattie is welcomed into a family. After years of feeling unwanted, the Muellers take her in with open arms, providing hope and love.

Filing her claim, Hattie learns she must prove up her land within a year's time (three months of which have already passed). This requires fencing in the boundary, and planting wheat and flax on at least eighty of the three-hundred-and twenty acres. Arriving at the property, Hattie finds a one-room cabin, with a barn housing a horse and a cantankerous bovine ('more devil than cow'). Hattie faces not only the hard Montana winter cold and the high heat in a rainless summer. She also contends with Traft Martin, owner of the area's largest property - it abuts Harriet's claim, which he wants.

Hattie exchanges letters with her childhood friend Charlie, who is fighting in World War I France. (His letters are under censorship with words cut out, making Charlie's communications appear like Swiss cheese.) In the States, Hattie is confounded by the anti-German bias that affects the Muellers, leading to the firing of their barn and a loss of cattle. A store owner is forced to change the name of sauerkraut to liberty cabbage, and a dachshund becomes a liberty dog. And on occasion, Hattie finds her cabin door open while she was away, with notes left on the table.

Kirby Larson gives readers a spirited, strong-willed, heroine living the rugged homesteading experience. Hattie tells us: 'I leaned back against the rough siding of Uncle Chester's house and studied that Montana sky. I know the same sky hangs over Iowa - over Charlie in France, for that matter - but I don't think it looks like this anywhere else in the world ... no trees or mountains to catch at that sky and keep it low. No, it stretched out high and smooth and far, like a heavenly quilt on an unseen frame.' Larson was justifiably awarded the Newbery Honor for Hattie Big Sky, which I highly recommend to you.

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