From a book talk I prepared for my Materials For Youth class in April 2011:
Louisa Downing has lived her entire life on the Nebraska prairie. As a baby, she slept inside a dresser drawer in her family’s house made of sod. As she has grown up, she’s learned how to tack muslin fabric to the ceiling of her family’s house to keep dirt from falling in on them, how to gather wildflowers while avoiding snakes, and how to collect buffalo droppings to burn as fuel in a land where no trees grow. She loves the wide beauty of the prairie and finds comfort in its emptiness.Then one day, a new settler arrives. Doctor Berryman has traveled all the way from New York with his beautiful, frail, pregnant wife, Emmeline. The settlers are thrilled to have a real doctor nearby for the first time. While Doc travels the countryside to tend to his new patients, Louisa and her younger brother Lester begin taking lessons from Emmeline. She has brought more books with her from the city than Louisa had ever dreamed existed, and through her lessons, Louisa falls in love with the beauty of poetry.
But through getting to know Emmeline, Louisa also learns that not everyone love prairie life as she does. All Emmeline sees are the hardships—the dirtiness, the hard work, the wild animals, the unfriendly Indians, the lack of supplies, and worst of all, the loneliness. Soon Louisa begins to wonder along with the adults—will Emmeline Berryman be able to survive the prairie?