In the book Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books, March 2020), Hanna loved her mom. She had taught Hanna to sew. But when her mom dies, Hanna and her father move to a different town. Hanna really wanted to go to school but when she went to school people teased her because she is half Chinese and that is bad for her father’s shop. But with a friend’s help she is able to get the customers back. She also now sews for the ladies.
Written by C, age 9
This is a book that stays with me, and I cannot forget the impact it has in my heart as a fantastic historical fiction middle grade novel. With a Little House on the Prairie vibe, Prairie Lotus take the same resourceful pioneer ethic into a 1880s town, but this time with a unique and expanded historical perspective. Unlike Little House on the Prairie, a racial minority shakes up the community not with “savage” behavior but with regular, wonderful, kind child-like behavior. Thus the story revolves not just around Hanna’s own growth and survival as well as the town’s growth. The Little House books, in contrast, feel artificial and limited in scope: Laura’s family’s journey in each book feels much more like simply survival in comparison to Park’s deeper examination of pioneer life.
I loved Hanna’s character, and the racism she faced was striking in its realism but also it’s comparison to the racism against the natives, who likewise are shunned and avoided by the town (as they also were in the Little House books.
I should note, however, that the town’s ultimate acceptance of Hanna only comes after a violent physical assault on thirteen-year-old Hanna. (It is suggested that this is also an attempted sexual assault, though those no non-kid words were used in the text.) Although I read this with my nine-year-old, I carefully tried to skim over the suggestiveness of the assault from the drunk man as we read it, and she seemed appropriately appalled without being traumatized.
Prairie Lotus was a 2021 Children’s Literature Award Honor selection of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association and given a 2021 Notable Children’s Book award from the Association for Library Service to Children.