Monday, May 25, 2009

A Lantern in Her Hand, a novel by Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881-1954) about the early days of Nebraska, has been announced as the One Book, One Nebraska 2009 selection. Aldrich modeled the protagonist, Abbie Deal, on her own mother who traveled by covered wagon to Nebraska in 1854.

First published in 1928, A Lantern in Her Hand has outlasted literary fashions to touch generations of readers, according to the University of Nebraska Press website. In A Lantern in Her Hand, Abbie accompanies her family to the soon-to-be-state of Nebraska. There, in 1865, she marries and settles into her own sod house.

The novel describes Abbie's years of child-raising, of making a frontier home able to withstand every adversity. A disciplined writer knowledgeable about true stories of pioneer days in Nebraska, Aldrich conveys the strength of everyday things, the surprise of familiar faces, and the look of the unspoiled landscape during different seasons. Refusing to be broken by hard experience, Abbie sets a joyful example for her family--and for her readers.

Roger Miller in the Milwaukee Journal praised the book. “The language is good and sturdy and dotted with imaginative metaphors and similes such as “Silence, so deep, that it roared in its vast vacuum.” If the book tries to crowd too much life into 300 pages, well, there was a lot of life: “We old pioneers,” Abbie says at the end, “we dreamed dreams into the country.”

One Book, One Nebraska 2009 is sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book, Nebraska Humanities Council, Nebraska Library Association, Nebraska Library Commission, and the University of Nebraska Press. This is the fifth year for the project. Activities are planned throughout the year to explore this book.

A Lantern in Her Hand is just one of many books which explore the pioneer experience that can be purchased at Homestead National Monument of America. In addition visitors can explore all aspects of the pioneer experience at the Heritage Center through the interactive exhibits, visit a cabin built in 1867 and tour a one room schoolhouse much like Abbie’s children might have experienced in A Lantern in Her Hand.

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