(Review) The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

Publisher and Publication Date: Delacorte Press. January 12, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: Advanced reader copy, e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of American history.
Rating: Excellent.

Melanie Benjamin website

Link to pre-order the book at Amazon

Summary:
In history, The Children’s Blizzard is also called the Schoolhouse Blizzard.
The event happened January 12-13, 1888.
There was snow and cold temperatures in the North and Central Great Plains. Then, they had a day of warmth. Schoolchildren went to school with less winter clothing because it was warmer. The blizzard began while they were at school and just before the school day ended.
The story is compiled from survivor stories.
The main characters are two sisters who are teachers: Gerda and Raina Olsen. Anette Pedersen, a servant girl living in the home of a farmer and his family. Gavin Woodson, a newspaper writer.

My Thoughts:
I’d first heard of the Children’s Blizzard referenced to in other stories and historical articles. This is the first book I’ve read about the event.

Several reasons why I love this story.
1. The main characters have personal stories. The stories of the young females impacted me the most. A few of the topics explored are young women had few opportunities for employment and they didn’t want to loose their job. Young women were often dreamy and naïve about romantic relationships. Men took advantage of young women and girls who were alone (this still happens). The teachers on the prairie were often young, lonely, homesick, inexperienced, and not much older than the students.
2. I learned what kind of weather predictions were available. I learned how weather reports were examined and reported. I learned how this particular blizzard developed.
3. A minor character, but no less important, is an African American business owner who has a family. He and his family are impacted by the blizzard. He takes action to find his children and help. I saw through his eyes how a black man was seen and treated in the Midwest during the late 19th century. I’d love to see this man have his own story.
4. The story doesn’t stop when the blizzard ends. The story continues post blizzard.
5. I feel this story matters. One reason is it shows a significant history that changed the lives of people who had not lived in America long. This area had first generation people from Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. These people were learning to live in a new land and create a life in the Upper Midwest. English was not their first language. In the story, Raina remarks she cannot speak her native language to the students even though they too speak the same language. I can better understand how they felt. I have empathy for their plight.
6. The Children’s Blizzard is a story I became apart of from the first page.
7. Several themes are explored: domestic violence, child abuse, anger, bitterness, perseverance, courage, and compassion.


(Review) Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Lilli de Jong

Publisher and Publication Date: Anchor Books. Paperback published July 2018.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 352.
Source: I received a complimentary copy from Anchor Books, but I’m not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Recommend.
Audience: Historical fiction fans. Readers of books about strong women.

Amazon

It’s been a long time since a fiction book has stirred my heart with conflict and heavy emotion!

Janet Benton website

Summary:
The year is 1883. The city is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Lilli de Jong is a 23 year old woman who is unmarried and pregnant. She is a Quaker. Her mother died and life with the new step-mother is unbearable. When the pregnancy is revealed, she begins living in a place that houses unmarried pregnant women. The original plan was to give the baby up for adoption, but she changes her mind. An opportunity of employment brings a direction change, but it comes with a heart-wrenching cost.

My Thoughts:
I know what it is like to be pregnant and unmarried. I eventually did get married, but not until midway through the pregnancy. In the early 1980s, people were more judgmental and critical than now. I was 18 and had graduated from high school, but looked much younger. People judged me for looking younger too. They thought I was 13 or 14 and had a baby. It was incredibly tough. Never mind all the people who were having sex and who did not get pregnant. I did and was judged. This is a first reason why Lilli de Jong provoked strong emotion in me. I can relate to her circumstance and plight.
A second reason this book provoked strong emotion is Lilli has excruciating tough decisions to make. She is singularly alone. This is an era where women were under the control of either a father, husband, or a custodian. Independent women were rare. The decisions and consequences of Lilli’s made my hair stand on end, because I can not imagine enduring what she did.
Lilli de Jong is a story where the first line is a clincher. “Some moments set my heart on fire, and that’s when language seems the smallest.”
The book is written as a journal and the divisions are listed as notebooks.
I enjoyed reading about maternal and infant care. One example is what to do about a breast infection.
I loved the research (author’s notes) on a rarely talked about subject: women and infants in the 19th century. I also loved another storyline: a mother who cannot nurse her baby. I’d thought of this before and wondered what they did? Did they use milk from a cow or goat? A solid choice is to use a wet nurse. The conditions and direction of finding a wet nurse is described in the story, as well as how the mother of the child may have felt.
Adding Quaker as the religion of Lilli’s made the book enticing and different. In books similar to this storyline, most of the young women are Catholic.

Lilli de Jong is a Library Journal Best Historical Fiction 2017.
National Public Radio’s Best Books of 2017