One Book South Dakota Arrives at South Dakota Humanities Council Office

Melanie Benjamin's 'The Children's Blizzard' Available Statewide for Book Clubs

The 2021 One Book South Dakota "The Children's Blizzard" has arrived: gather your book club and plan to find a cozy place to immerse yourselves in a story that unfolded during a South Dakota winter.

"South Dakotans know cold, and they know storms, so they will surely empathize with the characters who lived through the worst of Mother Nature's wrath," said South Dakota Festival of Books Director Jennifer Widman.

"I anticipate that the book will bring up memories of experiences readers have had or stories they've heard from family members, while also taking them on a thrilling and often heartbreaking adventure."

Melanie Benjamin's historical novel about the infamous storm that struck Dakota Territory in 1888 covers events in present-day Nebraska and South Dakota, which includes areas near Yankton.

Described by some as "Stephen King meets 'Little House on the Prairie,' "The Children's Blizzard" recounts the events of Jan. 12, 1888, which dawned sunny and mild but brought the infamous blizzard just as schools were dismissing.

"We're excited to have the book in our office and ready to be checked out by book clubs around the state," Widman said. Coordinators can check out a book club supply of the 2021 One Book for $25 (visit sdhumanities.org/onebook for instructions). Coordinators will receive the books by mail and can also reserve a scholar for virtual discussions. SDHC programs are virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Children's Blizzard

Exploring South Dakota History Through Fiction

Many South Dakotans are familiar with the story behind "The Children's Blizzard." On that unusually warm winter day, many students had gone to school without their heavy coats. This forced young schoolteachers across the region to make a life or death decision: allow the children to go out in the blizzard in hopes of making it home or risk being trapped in the schoolhouse.

Benjamin tells the fictional stories of sisters Raina and Gerda Olsen, schoolteachers in southeastern South Dakota and northeastern Nebraska who make very different decisions on that fateful day. Other main characters include servant girl Anette Pedersen and newspaperman Gavin Woodson.

The One Book announcement on Jan. 12 coincided with the 133rd anniversary of the titular blizzard and the release date of the new novel, which is based on storm survivors' oral histories.

"I'm so honored that you chose this novel that really is so much about Dakota and the Great Plains," Benjamin said on release day during a live appearance on SDHC's Facebook page.

About Melanie Benjamin

Benjamin is perhaps best known for her novel "The Aviator's Wife," in which she pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America's most extraordinary couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her other historical novels include the national bestsellers "Alice I Have Been," "The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, "The Girls in the Picture," about the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood's earliest female legends—screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford.

Since 2003, the One Book program has encouraged people across South Dakota to read and discuss the same book throughout the year. SDHC'S packaged reading program, which also offers a variety of other books in addition to the One Book, is designed for book clubs organized by individuals, libraries, museums, and other non-profit organizations.

Check It Out Today

If you'd like to join bibliophiles around the state who are reading and discussing the One Book South Dakota leading up to the 2021 Festival of Books Oct. 1-3 in Deadwood, click below to check out "The Children's Blizzard" for your book club and to find out more about the program.