Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park – Book Review
- Title: Prairie Lotus
- Author: Linda Sue Park
- Publisher: Clarion Books
- Release Date: March 3, 2020
RATING: 5 STARS
The history books describe the intense hostility Chinese immigrants faced in the 1880s. In addition to overt discrimination and racism, there was legislation that limited their immigration to the United States and prohibited them from becoming United States citizens. This is the backdrop for Hanna, whom as a half-Chinese and half-white teenager, faces all the hostility the time period could muster. She and her father (who is white) set out across the country to settle in the small town of LaForge in the Dakota Territory. Once there, the prospects of building a dry goods store and setting down roots appears promising. Yet, when LaForge residents learn of Hanna’s heritage, anti-Chinese prejudice threatens to destroy her hopes of finding a home, finishing school, and fulfilling her dream of becoming a dressmaker for her father’s shop.
Linda Sue Park’s Prairie Lotus adds the strong, brave voice of Hanna to the growing collection of middle grade novels featuring diverse perspectives. In particular, Prairie Lotus highlights an important facet of United States history that often goes untold when it comes to discussions about Westward Expansion. Park’s depiction of racial prejudice, her brief glimpses into the systematic removal of Native Americans, and general portrayal of life on the prairie accurately reflect certain realities of the time period. It is appropriate for the maturity level of younger readers and lends itself to critical analysis for older readers. Touching on controversial historical issues creates a conflict for readers because they will have to rectify the malevolence of these issues with Hanna’s “happy” ending. While the author explains that the novel is intended to serve as a counter-narrative to the Little House on the Prairie series, Hanna’s story still achieved the “tidy ending” of frontier literature. Yet, the history behind Hanna’s story is anything but tidy. Still, the mismatch could be productive if examined properly. The distance between fiction and history creates an opportunity for students to take a critical lens. They could critically analyze the narrative in Prairie Lotus for the way it presents the 19th century Chinese immigrant experience. They could also use that analysis as a springboard into a deeper examination of most mainstream portrayals of not only the immigrant experience but also Westward Expansion. In short, the depth Prairie Lotus seeks does create a path for thorough, critical engagement, if one is willing to follow it.
Overall, the writing in Prairie Lotus is succinct and vivid; Hanna’s voice is powerful and measured; and the plot is captivating and provoking. As a result, Prairie Lotus certainly earns its place on middle grades bookshelves. It also offers educators an opportunity to expand students’ understanding of this time period. They could use it as a vehicle to add deeper perspective historical studies about Westward Expansion while challenging the typical narratives told about Manifest Destiny.
- Cross-curricular Study – Teach the novel in conjunction with a nonfiction study of the history of immigration to the United States. It could focus on the Chinese immigrant experience, in particular.
- Book Pairing – Pair the book with another novel about the immigrant experience during the 19th century or the Native American experience during the 19th century.
- Book Comparison – Read excerpts from the Little House on the Prairie novels to compare and contrast the portrayal of life on the prairie during the 19th century, specifically focusing on the treatment of minorities and “outsiders.”
Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.
- U.S. History: Immigration
- Chinese immigrant experience in the 19th century
- 19th century Native American history
- Life on the prairie in the 19th century
Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Prairie Lotus. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.
- Saga of the Sioux by Dwight Jon Zimmerman (Nonfiction Connections, Themes)
- The Dragon’s Child: A Story of Angel Island by Laurence Yep and Kathleen S. Yep (Nonfiction Connections, Themes)
- Frontier Literature