by Linda Sue Park
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Currently five starred-reviews and still counting. This remarkable novel is ideal for middle grades and I add my voice to urge all ages to read and discuss this important story:
“Prairie Lotus is a powerful, touching, multilayered book about a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father’s shop, and making at least one friend. Acclaimed, award-winning author Linda Sue Park has placed a young half-Asian girl, Hanna, in a small town in America’s heartland, in 1880. Hanna’s adjustment to her new surroundings, which primarily means negotiating the townspeople’s almost unanimous prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story. Narrated by Hanna, the novel has poignant moments yet sparkles with humor, introducing a captivating heroine whose wry, observant voice will resonate with readers”. Afterword.
As soon as I read this new middle grade historical novel, which I did the minute I arrived home after my purchase, I knew I would be sharing my thoughts about it here. Sadly, while preparing the book post below, we’ve found ourselves globally-deep in the COVID-19 crisis. Events involve many health and social concerns, but none so tragic, I’m my opinion, as the racist attitudes, words, and actions of everyday citizens (compounded by misleading hateful language from our country’s president.)
In recent days I heard from an American writing friend who is Asian and a former student who is now a physician on the front lines in emergency rooms in New York City. She, too, is Asian. In one case, people in lines scowled, moved away, and otherwise displayed IGNORANT racist behavior. In another, while taking a short walk on city streets, verbal and threats of physical assault were suffered. In both cases the perpetrators were “white”, and the reports indicated that no others nearby spoke up or stepped in to confront the hateful actions and speech. Sadly, it is during crisis events such as these that a thin veneer of civility is peeled back and generational layers of racist hatred spill venom onto innocent victims.
In neither case was I there to speak out, to stand up, to be an ally. Instead I am determined to use this post and my rare outdoor excursions in these days and beyond to stay alert for opportunities to be a public ally. Please do the same.
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I had the privilege of meeting and hearing from author LINDA SUE PARK a few weeks ago. I’ve been a fan of her picture books and novels for years. I also admire her outspoken leadership in organizing and supporting the many underrepresented voices among the vast offerings of books for young readers. Offerings that for generations have presented a narrow point of view, a single story of history, in
Park has played a leading role in launching and growing We Need Diverse Books movement. This organization has become a compelling force within the publishing world and offers EVERYONE “finger-tap” access to extensive reading lists for all ages and interests. Linda has been a personal force in achieving the mission of this organization: in her own writing, speaking, mentoring, and through her social media presence.
I included the summary of her latest work, PRAIRIE LOCUST, above. I did so because I wanted to focus my commentary not the details of the story but on the remarkably appealing and heartfelt Hannah. As her life unfolds in a time and place parallel to the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the truth of history is explored through her eyes and dreams.
Park shared her personal story about the ways her youthful love of the Wilder titles eventually confronted the harsh reality about the stories she loved as a child. Click here for an interview with Park about her childhood connections to the Wilder books and her process in writing this book. Her depth of research, reflection, personal connections, and family heritage make Park’s writing the perfect story for broadening our understanding of American history for ALL OF US. It also indicates multiple realistic examples of individuals who served as allies to change lives and level opportunities to live in justice.
Hannah’s personal goals were not so different from those of any other child: to make a friend, to finish school, and to develop her talent- in Hannah’s case, to be a dressmaker, as her mother was. In an unfair world, it would be harder for her than for those who lived within the privileges of a dominant culture, a white culture. She had learned from Mama to fight injustice, and to fight within the system by channeling her mama’s wisdom and insights.
Please read this remarkable book, and access the recommended titles from the Diverse Books website. Share and discuss books to help us raise a generation in which racism is called out and allies are emboldened to stand up and speak out.
And use your voice and the social capital of privilege to speak out on the brand concepts of racism even when specific instances do not arise in your presence.