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“The Children’s Blizzard” By David Laskin

November 24, 2008

If you only read one book review on this blog, this is the one.

January 12, 1888 dawns as very warm across the Dakotas and Minnesota.  Children walked to school without coats, farmers went into their fields to take advantage of the weather to mend fences after what was already a long winter.  Later that day without warning hell opened a door on the open prairie.  In three minutes the temperature would fall 18 degrees.   Hurricane-like winds whipped snow and ice as a cold front raged over the countryside.  Sod homes were blown away.  School roofs were ripped off.  Windows exploded.  Animals beat to the ground by the force of Mother Nature.  And children in schools wanted to get home……..

On January 13th, some 500 people were dead, many of them children.  Some would survive the snow and darkness, but come Friday the 13th as they got to their feet they would succumb to the intense cold.

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This true account of one of America’s most ferocious storms starts in Norway, and the Ukraine as David Laskin introduces us to five families who will sell their belongings, say good bye to graves and loved ones, and set sail for America.  The tale moves along as the immigrants settle in the Dakota territories and Minnesota.  The first winter they make holes in the earth, put a few wooden slabs over the top, cover that with sod and try to survive a winter.  Some try to do so on flour mixed with a little water and cooked with only salt and pepper for flavoring.  In the summers they deal with grasshoppers and fire.  They thought the long winter that Laura Ingall Wilder would write of was the worst…….but in 1888 a winter storm came that made everything tame by comparison.

This book was mentioned on WGN this spring, (though it was published in 2004) but after the winter we had endured in Madison the last thing I wanted to do was read about a blizzard.  So I waited until the seasons had changed, and opened this amazing read last week.  Rarely have I found an epic read that makes the mouth drop in utter disbelief.  The enormity of the storm, the inhospitable nature of the prairie, and the desperate solitude that so many felt all alone in a new country on the wide open expanse of the Dakota territories, all make for a MUST READ.

Trust me on this one.

You will not be disappointed.  History comes alive!

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