Book Review: Hattie Big Sky

August 29, 2010

Hattie Big Sky
Kirby Larson
Grades 4-7
304 pages

A Common Language, my Seton Hill thesis novel, owes much to Kirby Larson’s Hattie Big Sky.  When I was in my second term at Seton Hill, my mentor realized that while I was getting a good feel for the characters in my thesis novel, the plot was lumbering along with no real direction.  I had several episodes, but nothing propelling them forward.  She suggested I read Hattie, which had won a 2007 Newbery Honor.  Even though Kirby later told me she didn’t think the plot of Hattie was its strongest point, it did the trick for me.  A year later, we purchased our first house after a long, complicated house-hunt…less than a mile from Kirby.  Since then, I’ve gotten to meet her at several local writing events, shared emails and blog comments, and grown to admire not only her writing but her warmth and generosity toward her readers and fellow authors.

But you’ll get your fill of Kirby, as she and her latest project will be featured for a record three weeks here at Damsels in Regress.  For now, I’d like to give a brief review of her first historical novel, one that taught her about her family’s past, jump-started her career, and gave her a love of history and historical fiction that continues to this day.

Hattie Big Sky tells the story of sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks, who was orphaned early in life and lives with many sets of relatives without ever feeling truly at home.  When she learns her mother’s brother has died and left her his homestead in eastern Montana, she jumps at the chance to make a life for herself.  This isn’t Little House, though–this is autumn of 1917.  Hattie takes a train to her new home, armed with meager provisions and her loyal cat, and writes letters to her school friend, Charlie, who is fighting World War I.  She finds a lean-to shack on her new property, along with a strict deadline of when she must “prove up,” or build a fence and start a farm on her land.

Before Hattie can become completely overwhelmed, she befriends her nearest neighbors, the Muellers, and Karl Mueller gives her a leg-up with the fencing and advises her on the farm.  Perilee, Karl’s wife, becomes Hattie’s friend and older sister, and Perilee’s oldest children, Chase and Mattie, visit Hattie regularly.  Hattie learns to milk cows, live on little food, plant flax and wheat, and quilt alonside the Muellers and other locals.  But Karl Mueller is German, and during World War I, that’s a quicker way to make enemies than friends.  And “proving up” in a harsh, changable climate like eastern Montana is harder than it looks.

I can’t say enough good things about this book.  It’s historical fiction at its absolute best: characters who live firmly in their time and place but possess qualities readers of today can relate to.  The setting is vivid and well-researched, the pacing solid, and there’s enough tension in the background to tie the episodes of Hattie’s life together into a complete story.

If you want to win a signed copy of Hattie Big Sky, leave a comment here by noon Friday EDT (remember, I’m Pacific time, so I’m giving you East-Coasters an advantage!) about a book that has taught you something about yourself or your chosen profession.  I will draw a winner before I catch my plane to Europe, though you may have to wait awhile to get your book.  Good luck, and stay tuned for more Kirby goodies!


Pictures from the Past: Tricia

August 27, 2010

1961 ­– Facts About Me

º This is a picture of me at my third birthday party.

º We were living in San Antonio, Texas.

º I don’t remember if I asked for the Casper, The Friendly Ghost, jack in the box.  I do remember that I was often called Casper while growing up because I was so pale.

1961 – World Events

º US Cuban Exiles and CIA mount unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Castro.  Became known as the Bay of Pigs.

º Fidel Castro declares Cuba is to adopt Communism and bans free elections.

º The Soviet Union detonates a 58-megaton yield hydrogen bomb known as Tsar Bomba over Novaya Zemlya. It remains the largest ever man-made explosion.

º John F. Kennedy inaugurated as President of the United States.

º President Kennedy asks Congress for $531 million to put a man on the moon.

º US Freedom Riders begin interstate bus rides to test the new US Supreme Court integration decision.

º Construction of the Berlin Wall begins in Germany.

º Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space.

1961 – Popular Culture

º IBM introduces the Selectric typewriter Golfball.

º “Barbie” gets a boyfriend when the “Ken” doll is introduced.

º Cost of a gallon of gas is 27 cents.

º Pampers, the first disposable diaper, introduced

º Pulitzer prize awarded to Harper Lee for To Kill a Mockingbird.

º Popular films include 101 Dalmatians, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and West Side Story.

Pictures from the Past: Emilie

August 25, 2010

Not that he would ever read this, but this post is in honor of my younger brother, Geoff, who turned (gulp) 21 earlier this month.  So even though I spent a lot of time wishing he’d go away when we were younger, now that he’s at least approaching adulthood, I’m glad he’s around.  And some of my favorite childhood memories of him are when we were on summer vacations.

1994–Facts About Me

  • This picture was taken in late July, which means I was ten and Geoff was about to turn five.
  • We were in Florida with our parents.  Our vacation that year was supposed to be to Mackinac Island in Michigan, but Mom found an offer for Disney World she couldn’t refuse, so Mackinac was post-poned until the following year.
  • This is my second trip to Disney World (Geoff’s first), and my second time on an airplane.  We boarded the plane, then had to get off and wait for about two hours due to a mechanical problem.  An art teacher sat near us at the gate and she sketched Geoff’s favorite stuffed animal, Puppy, and we kept that sketch on the fridge for years.
  • Geoff was a daredevil with the rides in Disney World.  He went with Dad on things like Big Thunder Mountain, while Mom and I stuck to the Mad Hatter’s Teacups.  However, Geoff did freak out at Snow White’s Adventures when the witch appeared.
  • Geoff had a much better time in the ocean than I did when I was four-going-on-five…as in, he didn’t swallow a mouthful of salt water and scream bloody murder:)

1994–World Events

  • This is the first year the Winter Olympics begin alternating with the Summer Olympics, so that there are games of some sort every two years.  Figure skating is the big draw at the ’94 games, due to the highly publicized attack on US skater Nancy Kerrigan.  Former Olympic-eligable skaters are also allowed to reinstate their eligability, bringing back favorite champs like Katarina Witt, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, and Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov.
  • (Further in honor of Geoff)  Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the band Nirvana, is found dead in his home.
  • The Rwanda genocide kills hundreds of thousands.
  • South Africa marks the end of apartheid by holding multiracial elections.

Pictures from the Past: Jennifer

August 23, 2010

The Year is 1995!

Mont Saint Michel, France

  • We were living in Thorigne Fouillard, France when this picture was taken.  My dad was a liaison officer in France.
  • Behind us is Mont Saint Michel a a rocky tidal island and a commune in Normandy, France. It is located approximately just over a half-mile off the country’s north coast. (Note: Remember Emilie’s post on places she can’t wait to see?  Well I had this scheduled before I knew she was writing that post…but there’s Mont Saint Michel in all it’s glory!  Now Emilie you’ll have to post a picture of your own when you return!!)
  • My family and I had just finished walking across the bay to get there when this photo was taken.  The walk across the bay was a yearly event.
  • In the two years I lived in Thorigné-Fouillard I visited Mont Saint Michel five times.
  • I was sixteen and attending the French high school L’Assumption at the time.
  • There was a bakery not even five minutes from my house and for two years I lived off of fresh baguettes every day.  It was heaven, or close to it.

It happened this year: 1995


  • January: In southern France near Vallon-Pont-d’Arc a network of caves are discovered that contain paintings and engravings that are 17,000 to 20,000 years old.
  • March: Yahoo! is incorporated, establishing the Internet Portal as a model.
  • April: Truck Bomb devastates Oklahoma City Federal Building killing 168 people.
  • May: Jacques Chirac is elected President of France.
  • August: NATO launches Operation Deliberate Force against Bosnian Serb forces.
  • Major League Baseball players end a 232-day strike


  • Windows 95 released by Microsoft.
  • JavaScript was first introduced and deployed.
  • DVD, optical disc storage media format, is announced.


  • Toy Story (first ever wholly computer generated film)
  • Batman Forever
  • Apollo 13
  • Pocahontas
  • Braveheart

Cost of Living:

  • Average Cost of new house $113,150.00
  • Average Income per year $35,900.00
  • Average Monthly Rent $550.00
  • Cost of a gallon of Gas $1.09
  • US Postage Stamp 32 cents

Winner of Primavera

August 20, 2010

Congratulations, Mara!  You won our drawing for a signed copy of Mary Jane Beaufrand’s Primavera!  Please send your snail mail address to damselsinregress [at] gmail [dot] com so I can mail you your prize!

The Every Day from the Past

August 19, 2010

This is an appointment card that I’m still trying to figure out exactly how the payments worked! It’s probably a small thing, but one that’s fascinated me and had me coming back to study it time and again!

Front Side

Back Side

Three Sites to Help You Research

August 17, 2010

Remember the post on Old Fashioned Ice Cream Recipes?  Well, what started out as a simple post turned into me spending hours (and I mean hours) online doing research, emailing the president of OSV and contacting a former member of the Stow Historic Commission Group trying to get the information I needed…needless to say it took much longer than I ever imagined it would.  In the process of doing all that research, I came across three amazing sites for historical information that I wanted to share with you.

The Food Timeline

If you’re at all interested in the history of food, you will get lost in this site.  I won’t tell you how much time I’ve already wasted visiting the links on this site.  The Food Timeline covers just above everything including recipes ranging from a 17th century ice cream to an early 1900’s chicken a la king recipe to a 13th century ravioli recipe.

According to this site, the recipes featured are “selected from a variety of sources including old cook books, newspapers, magazines, National Historic Parks, government agencies, universities, cultural organizations, culinary historians, and company/restaurant web sites.”


The American Treasures of the Library of Congress

I’m not sure how I haven’t found this site before now, but it too is another site I’ve lost many hours (and will lose many more) exploring.  I can’t even begin to tell you everything on this site, from books, to letters to lithographic posters…  You just have to go explore!

Here’s just a small taste of what you’ll find:

First Edition The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, cover - Chicago and New York: George M. Hill, 1900 – Part of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division -

Lithographic Poster, ca. 1877 - Prints & Photographs Division -

Jackie Robinson to Ralph Norton, May 5, 1947,Page 2 Manuscript Division, Jackie Robinson Papers -

The American Treasures of the Library of Congress

The Jefferson Monticello

I only came across this site because I was searching for an ice cream recipe.  It is the home site for Monticello (Jefferson’s Home).  It has a link to “Research & Collections” which leads you to a wealth of information on Jefferson and the 1700s and early 1800s as well.

It supports a search engine—“Jefferson’s Library”.  It also has a link to a digital library which brings you to “Papers of Thomas Jefferson” that have been digitally transcribed.  It’s got some fascinating information in it and scans of original documents.  Anyone doing research on the 1700s can probably put this site to good use.

The Jefferson Monticello