Lynn: Linda Sue Park, like so many readers, was a childhood devotee of the Little House books. Also like many, she was bothered by some of what was said and what was left out in terms of race but she loved the stories deeply. As she says in her wonderful Author’s Note, Park wrote Prairie Lotus (Clarion, 2020) “as an attempt at a painful reconciliation.” I think she does a wonderful job of honoring what so many young readers loved about the LH books while making a very successful job of including another important side of the story.
Hanna is racially mixed, white father, Chinese/Korean mother, in a time when anyone other than white is despised and has to deal with ugly and systemic discrimination and restrictions both legal and cultural. After the death of Hanna’s mother, her father moves them to the western territories, seeking a place to set up a Dry Goods store. Hanna dreams of designing and creating women’s dresses and of graduating from school but she faces enormous obstacles to both dreams. Readers of the LH books will recognize many of the elements they loved: the details of daily life on the prairie, finding food and creating meals, building a home on an often hostile land. I loved Park’s descriptions of dressmaking, the fabrics, sewing, and details of the dress goods store.
Hanna’s voice is wonderfully crafted and her hopes and dreams, struggles and heartbreaks are so vivid and have a deeply authentic feel. Park tells an important story here but she never allows the compelling story to be slowed by her intent to show a more realistic story of pioneers, Native people, and the settling of the west. Kids will read it for the engaging story and come away with a new understanding of the time, the people, and the issues.
Cindy: Like author Linda Sue Park, Laura was an imaginary friend of mine as I read her books again and again in the late 60s and early 70s. I still have a fondness for the stories and for what they meant to me growing up. While I pretended to explain the wonders of microwave ovens and electric lights and the bounty of children’s books to Laura, I remember admiring how happy the Ingalls were with any small treat. An orange and a penny for Christmas, for instance. The orange appears in Hanna’s story as well, as does the theme of being satisfied with what you have. I hated Wilder’s scenes with Nellie Oleson as she was so mean spirited; her spirit lives on in Park’s book in many of the prejudiced characters who are offended by Asian American Hanna living in their midst. From tactless questions about her ability to see well through her slanted eyes, to discriminatory acts to prevent her from attending school with the white children, Park tells another story of our country’s struggle to accept people who they feel “don’t belong.” That many of the hateful acts are drawn from Park’s personal experience makes the story all the more important for a new generation to read. Hanna’s spirit is indomitable and readers will be rooting for her success at school, with a friend, and with her dressmaking profession in this little insular town on the prairie.