Back in January, I attended the American Library Association meeting in Boston. Many of the publishers there hand out ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) of upcoming books. Some of these books have already come out, some are coming out as late as October. ARCs haven’t been completely finished, so there are occasional spelling mistakes, or missing illustrations, or spacing errors. Mostly though, that doesn’t matter. What’s fun is getting to see the books come out and being able to say “Hey, I already read that!” Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell was one of the first ARCs I picked up, and I’m so glad I did!
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Genevieve (Gen to everyone) is supposed to be having a normal summer between sixth and seventh grades; attending soccer camp, shopping at the mall, hanging out with her friends. But instead, she’s living in 1890.
Of course, it’s not really 1890. But it might as well be! Gen’s mother grew up loving Little House on the Prairie, and wishing she could live with the Ingalls family on the frontier. So when she discovered a family summer vacation that promises to recreate life in the 1890s, she signed up the whole family. Gen’s not happy about it, but how bad can pretending to live in 1890 be?
Pretty bad, as it turns out. The family running the place? They’re not pretending–they live like it IS 1890. Even clothing from 2010, like jeans, t-shirts and sneakers are not permitted! Gen is given a complete 1890s makeover–from pantaloons to petticoats to her heavy long dress. She has to wear her hair in braids. Anything invented before 1891– including i-pods, lip gloss, TVs, computers, hair dryers, junk food, and cell phones–are confiscated. But even as she’s being made over, Gen manages to hide her cellphone. It’s her only link to normalcy and her friends!
Now Gen, her younger brother Gavin and her parents are living in a one-room shack. She’s milking a cow, tending a garden and trying to keep the bears away from the house. Gen has to share a bed with Gavin (ugh!) and help her mother cook with only three ingredients (corn meal, water, and beans, enriched by an occasional pat of borrowed butter), as well as doing the laundry (By hand! On a washboard! In cold water!). The family running the “1890 vacation”–Ron, Betsy and their daughter Nora–seem to think life was better before technology, but Gen is quite sure they’re delusional.
There are some things that could be fun though. Three other families have joined them in 1890, including some other kids. There’s Kat, a goth 12 year old who’s no more excited about this situation than Gen, Matt, an obvious athlete, and Caleb, a cute but quiet mystery. And Gen has her cell phone.
To save her sanity, she texts messages to her friends back home about what’s happening in 1890. She shares everything with them. As the days go by, Gen soon finds that there are some redeeming things about living in 1890, if you have the right people to turn to. She’s spending more time with her parents than she ever remembers. Gavin is turning out to be not so bad, for a little brother. And Kat is fun to be around. Caleb might even be interested in her…if Nora didn’t keep showing up whenever they’re together. She doesn’t even mind when her friends back home text her that they’ve created a blog from her e-mails.
But when Gen makes a big mistake, will it ruin her happy Little Blog on the Prairie? Only her friends can save her. But is it the good friends at home, or the new friends she’s made in 1890?
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I LOVED this book! I laughed out loud at many of the blog entries. (Gen on her new outfit: “Help! I’m dressed up like an American Girl Doll minus the fashion sense. My sleeves are so tight I can’t lift my arms above my head. Is this the new me?”) The details about what life would really be like are eye-opening for readers. If you ever saw the PBS series Frontier House, this reminds me a bit of that situation. People might think it’s romantic to live out on the great prairies, but if you actually were to try it, the reality would be quite different. Most historical fiction books leave out things like outhouses, an abundance of beans, and the lack of running water for washing and bathing, but Gen reveals them to everyone.
Gen is a great character, and her words–both the texts she sends to her friends and the story she’s telling in the book–ring true. I think fans of the Little House series and other historical fiction will enjoy this book, as will girls who like humorous stories…especially if they enjoy a touch of romance. Kids trying to find something about unusual situations or stories about ‘how I spent my summer’ will find it fun. I know I’ll be recommending it to readers for quite awhile. Little Blog on the Prairie is being released in mid-May, so look for it coming to the library soon!