We Recommend: Feminist, Inclusive Historical Edition! Or: I Know Nothing

 It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.

Well, this one is tricky, for me, because you actually have to know something and not just glibly natter on about, oh, literature and stuff. See here:

This may be beyond your scope as an east coaster, but I have noticed
that in my daughter's school, as they have been studying westward migration
(lewis & clark, gold rush), there are virtually no women or people of
color in the curriculum. I know the Lucy Whipple book. And of course
there is Sacajawea. But do you happen to know any good books, fiction or
non-fiction, about women/girls in the western united states in the
1800s?

Oh dear! The west! See, this question comes to remind me that I don't really know anything.

It occurs to me that there must be many, many Native American narratives about this, and…I don't know any of them. Not to mention Asian Americans working on the railroads…about which I know nothing. And of course—well, the whole wide world, which for the moment seems far beyond me.

I am striving to convince myself that this is, indeed, because I am an east coast person, but I know it goes beyond that into Race and Children's Literature and Whose Story Is History, and on and on. So I did the only thing I could: I went to my collaborators. Diana, who is normally quick with the feminist answers, said "History? You'd better ask her," meaning Chestnut, and Chestnut, lover of brave, historical girls came up mostly empty. There is a book, she said, whose name is like Kate's Journey, except it isn't Kate's Journey, except it's sort of like that, and it's about a girl on the Oregon Trail. Or maybe it's about something different….

You get the picture. So I have my last-ditch efforts. 1) To give you this:

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(Image courtesy Amazon (could you tell?))

She dresses as a boy, she goes to find her father in a boomtown, adventures ensue. Chestnut liked it a lot. It could help out. But really, I am relying more on 2) Hey, readers? Help! Got any ideas to round out the story here? Put them in the comments.

17 thoughts on “We Recommend: Feminist, Inclusive Historical Edition! Or: I Know Nothing

  1. How about “Rachel’s Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl” by Marissa Moss? I don’t know how old the reader is, but my daughter read this book at age 9, and re-read it several times since. (and there are other journals of other girls, and they have a look of being handwritten, with little drawings and pictures in the margins.)

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  2. When I was a girl I had a book called Pioneer Girl. It was about a girl who was a homesteader in Western Canada (where I lived). It was really good, in my memory. Here is a link to it http://books.google.ca/books/about/Pioneer_Girl.html?id=8bYFN1bpde8C As I recall there are some aboriginal people who make brief appearances, but it is largely the story of a family making a home in the West. No big attacks or high drama, though I do remember at least one child dying, but mostly just day to day interesting stuff.
    And of course there’s Little House on the Prairie and the associated Laura Ingalls Wilder books.
    If you want more about people of colour though, I don’t know.

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  3. I haven’t read it, but seems to be the book Chestnut was referring to: (quoted from Amazon website)
    “Kate Winfield on the Oregon Trail” is the dramatic story of a teenage girl’s moral courage in confronting danger, disease, and death while taking part in the greatest human migration in world history. In 1843, Kate is among those 300,000 Americans who will journey up to thousands of miles to the Oregon Territory in search of a better life. Through perilous river crossings, blistering heat, choking dust clouds, freezing nights, and the tragic passing of her mother, Kate matures emotionally and spiritually and begins to dream of becoming a medical missionary to the Indians. But that dream is challenged when a typhus epidemic threatens to wipe out the entire wagon train.

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  4. There’s a wonderful non-fiction book with photos:
    Buffalo Gals: Women of the Old West by Brandon Marie Miller (out of print, unfortunately.)
    And how about Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan.

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  5. This might be a later time period than she wants, but I just remembered Dragonwings by Lawrence Yep–a novel about Chinese Americans in San Francisco in the early 20th century.

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  6. “Streams to the River, River to the Sea” is a great one about Sacajawea, which I loved as a kid… now granted, I read it as a kid so I have no idea how inclusive it really is, and it sounds like the requester is pretty done with Sacajawea anyway. The other one is “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell (who I think also wrote the first one), which we all know and love– not exaaaactly “the West” but I feel like the girl gets stranded as a result of some forced movement of her people off of their land? But again, I was like 9 when I read it.

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  7. Also, this book is not exactly kid material PER SE but “Cogewea” is a book I had to read in college, it’s pretty old both in terms of its moral tone and its language but the language is also fairly simple– it’s the story of a “half breed” from her own POV, about the right time period, and it is really pretty interesting. I don’t know, the mother might want to vet that one before she offers it to her daughter.

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  8. It might be a stretch, but what about Caddie Woodlawn? It’s set in the late 1800s. I remember there being some Native American parts, and she is a strong girl figure.

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  9. I haven’t read it, but ‘Paiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca’ looks like a good fit for this request. From the School Library Journal review:
    Ray’s powerful picture-book biography vividly depicts the life of a Native American woman whose efforts to seek justice for the Paiute tribe deserve greater attention. Born in 1844 in present-day Nevada, Winnemucca found that her tribe’s traditional way of life was in danger of disappearing under the onslaught of settlers, miners, railroad workers, and ranchers descending upon the American West.

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  10. I’m assuming that our reader is in 6th grade as that’s when we out here often study the West… My recommendations below are more adult but might be great as read out-loud together books. Molly Gloss (a descendant of pioneers herself) writes about women pioneers and homesteaders in Oregon. Jump Off Creek and The Wild Life might be good to share.

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  11. I loved the Middle Sister, by Miriam Mason, when I was growing up. She’s not brave and heroic, she’s scared and shy. But she fights for what’s important to her, despite all that.

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  12. Another Scott O’Dell book that I loved as a pre-teen was “Sing Down the Moon” about the forced relocation of the Navaho, I think around the turn of the century, told from the perspective of a teenaged girl. I read it so long ago that I can’t vouch for whether its told in an inclusive voice or not, but I remember it being a really powerful story.

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  13. Louise Erdrich has a young adult book called The Birchbark House that might fit the bill. There are also several collections of reprinted letters written by women from the Overland Trail etc., such as the series edited by Holmes called Covered Wagon Women. These aren’t necessarily children’s books, but some of them could be adapted, or Lillian Schlissel’s edited collection of diaries called Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. Some of these letters and diaries are available online (e.g., through the Library of Congress). Finally, there’s a graphic novel called Oregon Trail: The Road To Destiny by Young and Lasky that has a girl as the main character.

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  14. Quite a bit after Westward Expansion, but definitely western and historical and with a young woman-of-color narrator–Esperanza Rising. I can’t think of the author, but really lovely and fun.

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