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The Children's Blizzard Bets On...

The Children's Blizzard

January 2021

THE CHILDREN’S BLIZZARD is Melanie Benjamin’s seventh book, and I think it is her strongest thus far. It’s historical fiction set on the Great Plains against the backdrop of a major event on January 12, 1888. On that day, the temperatures on the Great Plains were unseasonably warm --- and, as a result, people went off to their chores and children headed to school less warmly dressed than usual. As a wickedly ferocious snowstorm swooped in, among those challenged by the weather were teachers in one-room schoolhouses across the Plains, many of them teenagers, who were faced with a dilemma: Do they send the children home, or do they keep them in the schoolhouse? If they chose the latter, there was not enough wood or building insulation to keep them warm, but the raging storm they would send the children out into was also an issue to consider.

The story is threaded between the tales of two sisters, both schoolteachers, who make very different choices on how to handle this crisis. The blizzard forms the framework of the story, but allows Melanie to explore much more, namely the way the Plains had been “sold” to early homesteaders as slices of paradise when in fact this was not Eden. Rather, it was a challenging environment with trying agricultural issues as the land was not regularly fruitful, along with tough weather conditions. Immigrants headed to this part of the country and once there became overwhelmed by the isolation, as well as the climate.

When the book opens, we are caught up in the storm, and one thinks that is all it is about. There are many characters, and their stories are told in bits and bites, so one needs to stay with it to see where the novel heads. One feels the stressful nature of the day, and the tension ramps up. Readers later see why the setup was as it was, as the characters are stretched and moved in new directions. There are challenges, and many do not respond as one thinks they might.

I added a sweater more than once as I read it. Melanie writes “cold” really well! You also feel the loneliness and isolation of these pioneers.

Fun tidbit: This book was published on January 12, 2021, exactly 133 years after the tragedy; I love how the timing worked out like that for pub day. There is a lot to discuss here for book groups. So many of these topics can spin an interesting discussion.

The Children's Blizzard
by Melanie Benjamin

  • Publication Date: January 12, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • ISBN-10: 0399182284
  • ISBN-13: 9780399182280