The Children’s Blizzard is not the best book ever written, but the topic is certainly interesting, and something you might want to know more about. Because children figured so heavily in this naturally disaster, children’s books are good options as read alongs when they are studying natural disasters, and there are several good books written for older children about this and other blizzards that affected children in this part of the country.
Nonfiction About the Children’s Blizzard
Melanie Benjamin’s book is a fictionalized account of real events and the people who lived them, but David Laskin’s nonfiction, also called The Children’s Blizzard, is the key book on the event.
Older Children’s Fiction about Children in Blizzards
If you are a fan of the Little House books, you might have wondered if the “children’s blizzard” has anything to do with the storms that affected the Ingalls family, especially during the events described in The Long Winter.
The official event described in The Children’s Blizzard, which is actually known as “The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard”, occurred several years after the events in The Long Winter, which occurred during the winter of 1880-1881. The events in The Long Winter, however, are mostly historically accurate.
I was struck, in particular, by the detail in The Children’s Blizzard that many people were caught especially unprepared for a storm that day because the morning was warm, and people left home without their normal winter clothing. In many cases, they took advantage of the warm weather as an opportunity to air out their winter clothes, which of course would be smelly after months of continued use. In The Long Winter, Ma showed a lot more sense: in chapter (), she insists that Laura wear her winter underwear to school despite similar conditions that meant the morning was unusually warm because she knew that when it’s winter in blizzard country, you wear your warm clothes. Period.
Of course, there would be many more new settlers, who were unfamiliar with the climate, in 1888.
The Ingalls family had been living on the plains for a while, and Pa had already survived a close call with a blizzard as described at the end of On the Banks of Plum Creek.
Many people know author and illustrator Lois Lenski through her Newbery Medal winning Strawberry Girl and her Newbery Honor book, Indian Captive, but she wrote a whole series of books called “regionals” to bring the lives of often overlooked children to the printed page. Lenski’s books were so popular, that many of the later books were written when children wrote her and asked to to visit and write about them. One of the books written at the request of their subjects is Prairie School, which features the teacher and students of a one-room school in South Dakota in 1950.
While The Long Winter captures a year in the life of a brand new town, Prairie School captures another seminal year in rural life in South Dakota as it is the last year before the advent of school busses brings about the mass closing of one-room schools.
The I Survived series also has a volume depicting this disaster, I Survived the Children’s Blizzard, 1888. The details are fictionalized, but the events are real, and like all of the books in this series, there is an appendix with historical details and a selection of books for further reading.
One of the things I like about the Common Core, the latest stab at a common curriculum in the United States, is an emphasis on nonfiction that has created a market for children’s nonfiction writing, that appeals in particular to reluctant readers, who often don’t get the point of fiction and stories.
More Books about Teaching in Isolated Schools on the American Plains
Although an early chapter in Little House books, however, give a detailed account of school life on the prairie, with Little Town on the Prairie devoting several chapters to the challenges of teaching these schools, as evidenced by Laura’s teacher and later sister-in-law Eliza Jane Wilder (whose story is detailed in Wilder biographies), and later, by Laura’s first teaching experience, in Mildred Walker’s Winter Wheat is a nuanced and detailed account of what it was like to live and work in similar circumstances, in the 20th century, in Montana.
Mildred Walker’s Winter Wheat is a nuanced and detailed account of what it was like to live and work in similar circumstances, in the 20th century, in Montana.