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Children's Literature Reviews
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Black-eyed Susan : a novel
by Jennifer Armstrong ; illustrated by Emily Martindale.
Contributor biographical information
Publisher description
New York : Crown Publishers, 1995.
120 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.


Ten-year-old Susie and her father love living on the South Dakota prairie with its vast, uninterrupted views of land and sky, but Susie's mother greatly misses their old life in Ohio.

Best Books:

A Few Good Books, 1995 ; Book Links; United States
Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, 1995 ; United States
Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts, 1996 ; NCTE Children's Literature Assembly; United States
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education; California

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Kentucky Bluegrass Award, 1997 ; Nominee; Kentucky
Virginia State Young Readers' Award, 1998 ; Nominee; Elementary School Level, Grades 3-5; Virginia

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader
Interest Level Middle Grade
Book Level 5.1
Accelerated Reader Points 2
Accelerated Vocabulary


Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1995)
A pioneer girl who loves her South Dakota home tries to deal with her mother's wish for the trees of her Ohio childhood in this middle-grade novel. As does Patricia MacLachlan in Sarah, Plain and Tall (1985), Armstrong (Steal Away, 1992, etc.) writes in a simple but quite literary style about an easterner's struggle to adapt to the prairie as seen by a young girl--Susie--who is anxious for her to make the transition happily. In this book, the mother is biological, but the difference lies in the tone; she is suffering real depression as a consequence of feeling trapped in her husband's sod home (a theme of apparently enduring interest for readers of all ages, found not only Eve Bunting's Dandelions--see review, below--but also in Pam Conrad's 1985 Prairie Songs and Ole R"lvaag's 1927 Giants of the Earth). Susie breaks through her mother's agoraphobia, with the help of an Icelandic family on the way to their homestead and a beautiful prairie sunrise. This happy ending seems a little unrealistic, but children will find it satisfying. The story has a strong sense of character, e.g., Susie's language as she narrates depicts a child in love with the literature her mother reads in their isolation. The emotional hardships of pioneer life are made clear in a loving family story. 1995, Crown, $15.00. Starred Review. © 1995 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Ten-year-old Susie revels in the natural beauty of the vast prairie surrounding her family's sodhouse in the Dakota Territory, but her mother-depressed and homesick for her native Ohio-refuses to go outdoors. In Armstrong's (King Crow; Steal Away) characteristically lyrical language, Susie ponders her mother's "lonesomeness": "Perhaps it had been growing like a seed, and was blooming at last with a pale flower and a sad perfume. All I knew was that Ma never laughed anymore, hardly spoke, seldom smiled." On a trip to town with her father, Susie futilely combs the mercantile for "something cheerful" for her mother. Ma brightens up a bit that evening, when a warm, merry family of Montana-bound homesteaders from Iceland spends the night, giving a canary as a gift. And in the dramatic concluding scene, Susie convinces the woman to come out on the roof of their home to greet the rising sun. With her prairie setting and poetic narrative, Armstrong steps into Patricia MacLachlan territory, but her footing is less sure. While the novel is illuminating in its view of a pioneer family, its many descriptive passages and reminiscences leave the work short on action and too slow-moving for most readers in the targeted age group. Ages 9-14. (Aug.)

Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 1995 (Vol. 49, No. 2))
Awed and oppressed by the vast prairie, Mama hasn't set foot outside the sod house in months. Yet even as she shuffles around the room, vigilantly guarding against the vermin that drop from the ceiling, Papa and ten-year-old Susie ride into town to file a claim for additional property, committing the family to another five years on the plain. Susie scours the Mercantile for some treat to cheer Mama, but it will take the contagious optimism and confidence of a migrating Icelandic family to jolt Mama from her brooding and cajole her to embrace the prairie with her daughter's fresh enthusiasm. Even with the somber nature of much of the book, the Little House crowd will find Susie a thoroughly engaging narrator-bubbly, thoughtful, and precocious. Armstrong never wastes a word, allowing the natural dialogue and Susie's incisive observations to disclose how Papa's experience in the fiery Battle of the Wilderness made him leery of trees, and how Mama's privileged background and impulsive marriage left her ill-prepared for the rigors and loneliness of life as a settler's wife. With a plot strongly reminiscent of Eve Bunting's Dandelions, reviewed last month, this offers slightly older readers a look at the pleasures and toll of early life on the prairie. Reviewed from an unillustrated galley. R--Recommended. Reviewed from galleys (c) Copyright 1995, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1995, Crown, [96p], $15.00. Grades 3-5.


Frontier and pioneer life--South Dakota--Fiction.
Parent and child--Fiction.
South Dakota--Fiction.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.A73367 Bl 1995
95002276 [Fic]
0517701081 (pbk.)
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