Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Today's read... A Sky Full of Song by Susan Lynn Meyer

We, currently, live less than a day's wagon ride from Laura Ingalls Wilder's home. Actually, I even had the honor to take part in their Children's Literature Festival with my own middle grade novel a year or two ago. So, when I got my hands on today's read, I was more than a little curious to peek inside. 

This one follows a girl and her family from the Ukraine to the prairies of North Dakota, and that during the homesteading period. I'm expecting historical goodness with heart and adventure. Plus, I'm curious to see what the cranes have to do with all of it. So, let's dive in!

by Susan Lynn Meyer
Union Square Kids
Middle Grade Historical Fiction
263 pages
ages 8 to 12

This heartwarming, beautifully written middle-grade historical novel about an untold American frontier story is destined to be a cherished classic. 
North Dakota, 1905
After fleeing persecution in the Russian Empire, eleven-year-old Shoshana and her family, Jewish immigrants, start a new life on the prairie. Shoshana takes fierce joy in the wild beauty of the plains and the thrill of forging a new, American identity. But it’s not as simple for her older sister, Libke, who misses their Ukrainian village and doesn’t pick up English as quickly or make new friends as easily. Desperate to fit in, Shoshana finds herself hiding her Jewish identity in the face of prejudice, just as Libke insists they preserve it.
For the first time, Shoshana is at odds with her beloved sister, and has to look deep inside herself to realize that her family’s difference is their greatest strength. By listening to the music that’s lived in her heart all along, Shoshana finds new meaning in the Jewish expression all beginnings are difficult , as well as in the resilience and traditions her people have brought all the way to the North Dakota prairie

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The pioneering spirit shines bright while weaving in historical themes with cultural care and adding interesting tidbits along the way.

Shoshana and her family can't remain in the Ukraine. As Jews, their lives are constantly threatened. So when the day arrives to pack up and head to America, Shoshana has very mixed feelings. She, her mother, and her siblings head to North Dakota, where her oldest brother and father have already spent the last years building up a farm. With a dugout as their house, English difficult to understand, and survival on the land not guaranteed, Shoshana must figure out how this new life works.

The second I saw the cover, The Little House on the Prairie popped into my head...and that wasn't wrong. The first chapters take place in the Ukraine, opening with the persecution Shoshana and her family face. While the family boards the ship, sails to America, and then, takes a train until they finally arrive in North Dakota, the reader has a chance to get a glimpse at Shoshana and several of her family member's personalities, hopes, and concerns. From there, life on the northern plains with all of its difficulties, wonders, and dreams unfolds...and this in a way, which offers nods toward the still-loved novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder. There's the father's fiddle, a mother's beloved belongings, a lofty shop-owner's daughter and so on. Even the pacing and direction reminds of the above novel. And yet, this book takes on a life of its own.

The Ukrainian origins give Shoshana and her family an intriguing twist. The author has done her research and this shows on every page. From the Yiddish phrases to details surrounding cooking, school life, and more, there is quite a bit for readers to discover and learn. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Shoshana's life in the Ukraine first (to help deepen the understanding of the changes she faces and what she left behind), but there is quite a bit going on in this read already. Not only are the historical details and homesteading side interesting, but themes such as Indian displacement and cultural/religious suppression are also addressed...and that in a natural way. This one is not only great for classrooms and libraries but will draw the interest of more than a few homeschoolers.

And here she is...

Susan Lynn Meyer is the author of two previous middle-grade historical novels—Black Radishes, a Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner, and Skating with the Statue of Liberty—as well as three picture books. Her works have won the Jane Addams Peace Association Children’s Book Award and the New York State Charlotte Award, as well as many other honors. Her novels have been chosen as Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selections, included among Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year, and translated into German and Chinese. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Wellesley College and lives outside Boston.

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