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Hardscrabble, My New Children’s Book

Volume XII, Issue Four | December 2017 Some of the best friends I ever made were in junior high school. When I was at Smiley Junior High in Denver in the early 1950s, I was part of a potluck. We met on Friday nights at different homes, each bringing a dish. Then after dinner, we went to the Tower Theater to see a movie, along with all the other potlucks. It was a ritual that the six of us—Diane, Joan, Marilyn, Gwen, and two Sandras—rarely missed. I moved away after junior high and lost touch with those friends, until a few years ago when I reconnected with Diane, who is trim and beautiful and as sweet as she was 60 years ago. I also met Diane’s husband, Jack, and at a book signing they attended a couple of years ago, he gave me a copy of some Wyoming pioneer recollections he thought I’d enjoy. Now I have to say that on occasion, people do give me writings they think might inspire a book, and while I’m grateful, I’ve never gotten a book idea from any of them. This was different. I’d thought about writing a book on homesteaders, but hadn’t given it serious consideration until I began reading the story of these Wyoming pioneers. As I read about the hard times, the challenges, the joys and sorrows of homesteading life, I realized I wanted to write a middle-grade novel about homesteaders. So that’s the story behind Hardscrabble, which Sleeping Bear Press will publish in March. It is my third middle-grade book, behind The Quilt Walk and Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Skies. The fourth is scheduled for 2019.

Of course the setting is different—Colorado instead of Wyoming—and I’m not sure I actually used any of those stories, but I did pick up the hardship, the dedication, the sacrifice, and the importance of families working together that ran through Jack’s stories.

Here’s how Sleeping Bear describes the book:

In 1910, after losing their farm in Iowa, the Martin family moves to Mingo, Colorado, to start anew. The US government offers 320 acres of land free to homesteaders. All they have to do is live on the land for five years and farm it. So twelve-year-old Belle Martin, along with her mother and six siblings, moves west to join her father.

But while the land is free, farming is difficult and it’s a hardscrabble life. Natural disasters such as storms and locusts threaten their success. And heartbreaking losses challenge their faith. Do the Martins have what it takes to not only survive but thrive in their new prairie life? This new middle-grade novel from New York Times-bestselling author Sandra Dallas explores one family’s homesteading efforts in 1900s Colorado.

Homesteading was critical in settling the American West. Some 1.6 million claims were filed between 1862 when the Homestead Act was passed and 1976, when it was repealed for all states but Alaska. Claims totaled 420,000 square miles or 10 pct. of government land. The peak years were 1900 to 19l5. An estimated 93 million Americans are homestead descendants. Originally, a claim was for 160 acres, and the homesteader had to live on the land for five years. Later the size was increased and the time required reduced to three years. –SD


In the last issue of Piecework, I wrote about the show of Central Asian quilts curated by my friend Christine Martens, at the quilt museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. About the time that issue came out, my daughter Dana and I were back in Istanbul, where we had met Chris and discovered Asian quilts. We went to the shop in the Grand Bazaar that Chris had taken us to. Dana speaks a little Turkish, and the proprietor said, “I remember you.” Then he turned to me and said, “I don’t remember you.” (That actually happened twice in Istanbul.)

We asked if he had any quilts, and he pulled out two. The first was from Uzbekistan, a colorful full-size patchwork quilt top with lots of red in it. The other, a quilted baby cover from Turkey, was made up of 16 squares banded in blue and quilted in blue embroidery-floss-like thread. The patchwork in the squares of that one was cockeyed, and reminded me of Gees Bend quilts. Of course I bought them both.

The two are in poor shape. There isn’t much I can do with the bigger one, but with the smaller one, I applied patches over the badly frayed shapes, using period fabric the merchant gave me. I’m not much of a quilter, but then the quilt is a crude folk art piece, so my patches are right at home.

Sandra’s Picks

All She Left Behind By Jane Kirkpatrick. Revell.