“As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the color of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.”
–from My Antonia by Willa Cather
I fell in love with the prairie when I read My Antonia several years ago, and I quickly read several more of Willa Cather’s books in search of more. Years later, I find myself still drawn to books that seem like they will capture the same depth and beauty that Cather portrayed in her books. I read A Lantern in her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich only to find a story, less of the prairie, and more of a woman’s choice to give up everything for her family. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Later I read Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker. This was closer to what I wanted. This coming-of-age novel follows a young girl as she determines what is important to her and gets to know her parents for who they are. It was a good book, but not quite it either.
Then I found Giants in the Earth. In this story, which feels like a saga but only covers about 4 or 5 years, several Norwegian families settle in an isolated area in the Dakotas. The struggle of life on the prairie is particularly illustrated in one family in which the father/husband seems almost manic in his drive to success and the wife/mother falls deeper and deeper into depression due to loneliness. It was quite powerful, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a story to explore the pioneer life further after reading Willa Cather.
If you want to put a visual to the quote above from My Antonia, you might take a look at Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen. This picture book, illustrated by David Small (I blogged about his memoir here), follows a young girl adjust from city life to pioneer life. Small’s illustrations really capture the movement and beauty of the prairie. The book is perfect to share this particular time and place with elementary school age kids. (It was a bit long for my preschooler.) Highly recommended.
You may also be interested in some previous If You like… posts.
FCC Disclaimer: All books mentioned were reviewed from library copies. All book links are Amazon Affiliate links.