Category Archives: Dell

Review: The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

Title: The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Dell
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 355 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife comes a story of courage on the prairie, inspired by the devastating storm that struck the Great Plains in 1888, threatening the lives of hundreds of immigrant homesteaders, especially schoolchildren.

“Melanie Benjamin never fails to create compelling, unforgettable characters and place them against the backdrop of startling history.”—Lisa Wingate, author of The Book of Lost Friends

The morning of January 12, 1888, was unusually mild, following a punishing cold spell. It was warm enough for the homesteaders of the Dakota Territory to venture out again, and for their children to return to school without their heavy coats—leaving them unprepared when disaster struck. At the hour when most prairie schools were letting out for the day, a terrifying, fast-moving blizzard blew in without warning. Schoolteachers as young as sixteen were suddenly faced with life and death decisions: Keep the children inside, to risk freezing to death when fuel ran out, or send them home, praying they wouldn’t get lost in the storm?

Based on actual oral histories of survivors, this gripping novel follows the stories of Raina and Gerda Olsen, two sisters, both schoolteachers—one becomes a hero of the storm and the other finds herself ostracized in the aftermath. It’s also the story of Anette Pedersen, a servant girl whose miraculous survival serves as a turning point in her life and touches the heart of Gavin Woodson, a newspaperman seeking redemption. It was Woodson and others like him who wrote the embellished news stories that lured northern European immigrants across the sea to settle a pitiless land. Boosters needed them to settle territories into states, and they didn’t care what lies they told these families to get them there—or whose land it originally was.

At its heart, this is a story of courage, of children forced to grow up too soon, tied to the land because of their parents’ choices. It is a story of love taking root in the hard prairie ground, and of families being torn asunder by a ferocious storm that is little remembered today—because so many of its victims were immigrants to this country.


The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin is a captivating historical novel based on true life events.

In 1888, an unexpected warm winter day ends in tragedy for many people including schoolchildren. In the Dakota Territory and Nebraska,  teachers and children set off for school in lighter clothing and outerwear. Just as the school day is coming to an end, the weather rapidly changes from blue skies to a blinding blizzard. Two sisters, Gerda and Raina Olsen make two strikingly different decisions that forever alters the course of everyone’s lives.

Sixteen year old Raina has just begun her teaching career. Like many teachers during the time period, she is boarding with a local family in the Dakota Territory. The Pederson household is quite tense and she is not quite as focused on her students as she ought to be. Her eighteen year old sister Gerda has more experience and she is boarding with an older couple in Nebraska. Gerda is also distracted since she is in the first throes of young love.  Both must decide what to do with the children in their charge when the blizzard strikes. Who will send their pupils home without adult supervision? And which young woman’s clear thinking will save the children in her care?

In  Omaha, newspaperman Gavin Woodson  laments the circumstances that lead to his current position in Nebraska.  Although the day the blizzard strikes begins like any other, a chance encounter will alter his future and change his viewpoint of his role in bringing settlers to the Plains.  Gavin’s need for answers will take him deep into the heart of the settlers whose lives are affected in the tragic aftermath of the blizzard.

The Children’s Blizzard is an incredibly well-written historical novel that brings attention to a long forgotten tragedy in America’s history. The characters are three-dimensional and spring vividly to life. The raging blizzard, the vast plains and everyone’s fear are palpable as split second decisions could mean the difference between life and death.  I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend this well-researched, fascinating historical novel by Melanie Benjamin.

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