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by | Aug 2021

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

Author details an 1800s snow day.

Raina and Gerda Olsen were born in Norway in the 1870s. As small children, they immigrated to Nebraska with their parents when their father was given 160 acres of land by the United States Government. In their mid-teens, both girls become schoolteachers in one-room schoolhouses. Raina is a gifted teacher while Gerda struggles to emulate her older sister. She feels like she lives in Raina’s shadow. Each sister boards with a farm family, which for Gerda is also a struggle. On January 12, 1888, after weeks of horribly cold weather, the morning breaks to an uptick in temperature. The young teachers and their students leave behind their coats and mittens to walk the miles to school in shawls and sweaters. In her novel The Children’s Blizzard, Melanie Benjamin captures the haunting chronology of events of that day and how it was experienced by her characters: teachers, children, Omaha newspapermen and bartenders. The land itself becomes a character. This is an incredible book, deeply researched and wonderful reading.

Contributed by Maureen Millea Smith, a librarian at the Edina Library and a Minnesota Book Award-winning novelist.


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