Literary Criticism and Significance
Hattie Big Sky has been praised by critics for its authenticity and creative twists. Like Katherine Patterson's Lyddie, another classic of the genre, the story is a coming-of-age novel with a strong female protagonist who overcomes obstacles unique to a specific historical setting. The author, Kirby Larson, conceived the idea for her book from her own family history, and researched the subject by reading the diaries of dozens of actual homesteaders. Although her grandmother, upon whom the character of Hattie is based, was able to successfully prove up on her claim, Ms. Larson chose not to let Hattie do the same, basing her decision on research that indicated that, realistically speaking, most homesteaders did not make it. Although she does not achieve her original objective, Hattie grows in ways that are much more valuable. She discovers that, even in a time when opportunities for women are limited, the possibilities open to her in her life are far wider than she could have ever imagined, and she comes to the realization that the important things in the world, peace in herself and the love of good friends, are things she already has.
The recipient of a 2007 Newbery Honor Award, Hattie Big Sky was also named to Booklist's roster of "Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth," and the "Top Ten Women's History Books for Youth" in that same year. The author's handling of pertinent themes in the book, especially those concerning war and ethnic stereotyping, make Hattie Big Sky a valuable option in exploring these issues as they relate to the everyday lives of students in the present day, especially in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the resulting war on terrorism.