There were many, oh so many, possible ways this book could have ended with at least a tiny ray of hope. But none, oh none of them, actually occurred.
- Hattie could have borrowed just enough money to save her claim.
- Traft Martin could have had at least one redeeming quality, making Hattie’s in-and-out relationship with him feel like it had a purpose.
- Hattie could have married her friend Charlie (why else did they write each other constantly?).
- Some small portion of the crop she slaved over could have been saved.
- The children she loved so much could have gotten really sick, but by a miracle, come through the Spanish Flu alive.
Or, if you’re really into being totally bummed out while reading for pleasure:
- Traft Martin. our handsome anti-hero, could be completely and hopelessly irredeemable.
- Hattie could end up, after a year of back-breaking work with less than she started out and going off to be a chamber maid in a boarding house — the very job she traveled to Montana to avoid.
- Her favorite little girl could die painfully, while lying in Hattie’s arms.
- Hattie’s best friends could move away and desert her to fend for herself.
You tell me — which version of this story would you prefer to read?
When just over half way through Hattie Big Sky I bragged to my brother about how much I was enjoying reading the Newbery books. How the one I was reading right then was so good that I couldn’t decide which of my nieces to give a copy to — or whether I should just give one to each of them. “It is that good,” I said.
Then I read the final chapters, in which literally, it seemed, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, in every possible way. Everything. I have still not gotten over the disappointment. I still complain about it every time this book comes up in conversation (which is surprisingly often, probably due more to my state of frustration than to anyone’s actual interest in hearing my complaints).
I understand that the Newbery judges like a good tragedy. They like death. They like poverty. They like orphans. They like parents who desert their children, or who don’t like them much. But personally, I can’t believe that we need to tell our kids that life is quite that hard — at least not all in one book. Surely children need a tiny ray of hope to go on. Just a smidgen. Anything.
Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson
Newbery Honor Book – 2007
A.R Level: 4.4; Middle Grades +