Prairie Lotus

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Prairie Lotus Book Poster Image
Stunning tale of Asian girl's struggle on 1880s frontier.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of details about life in the Dakota Territories in 1880. Hanna's an aspiring seamstress, so much of the terminology having to do with dressmaking is introduced (piping, shirring, calico, knotted buttonhole stitches, etc.). Hanna meets some Sioux women, who speak with her in the Lakota language and teach her about roots they harvest and how to prepare them.

Positive Messages

Finish what you start -- good work isn't good if you don't finish. Just because it's hard doesn't mean you shouldn't try. When you feel sadness or anger, look outside of yourself and be of service because it fills you with goodness. Sometimes beautiful things aren't for buying -- they're for dreaming about. Being clean and neat shows respect to other people. In order to to save time, take your time. For the person who's sour, do something sweet. Learn when to be strong on your own and when to be strong with the help of others. If you know yourself and who you are, you don't need the approval of other people. Breathe. Before there are answers, there have to be questions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hanna is half-Asian (Chinese and Korean) and half-White. She must be hidden from view in the part of the country where she and her White father are traveling, or else people might say horrible things or make threats to them both. Hanna's Asian mother taught her many wise sayings from her culture, showing her how to have patience and be a good person. At two points in the story, Hanna meets a group of Lakota Sioux women who are harvesting prairie potatoes. When she first meets them, she cooks for them, treating them with honor, later defending their right to be looking for food when the justice of the peace in La Forge threatens to report their whereabouts to the U.S. government seat in Yankton.

Violence

Hanna witnesses riots in Los Angeles where the White majority lynches Chinese men, burning and looting their homes and businesses. Her mother dies as a result of smoke inhalation when she tries to save someone during the riots. Her papa had "throttled a man half to death" because someone had insulted his wife. He was nearly charged with assault. Papa's mood changes often, and at one point he yanks Hanna into a wagon. When she says that he's hurting her, he says, "You think that hurts?" Hanna learns to shoot a rifle to keep them safe on their journeys. Hanna is assaulted by two drunken men in the street who tear her dress, scratch her, and squeeze her hard enough to make a bruise. These men prepare to sexually assault her, but she manages to get away. She feels she can't tell her father about the assault, and has nightmares about it. The rumor of the assault keeps people away from her father's new business.

Sex
Language

Hanna's called racist names like "slanty eyes," "slitty eyes," "Chinamen eyes," and "dirty Chinamen." Some parents refuse to let their children be in the same room as her, saying she's "dirty." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

 Hanna is assaulted in the street by two drunken men who tear her dress then fall to the ground because they are so drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Linda Sue Park's Prairie Lotus is a beautifully written story that explores racism and violence against people of color in 1880s Dakota Territories. Hanna,14, and her White father left their home in Los Angeles, California, after riots there, in which more than a dozen Chinese men were lynched and Hanna's Asian mother (part Chinese and part Korean) died from smoke inhalation. Hanna and her father travel across the country by horse and wagon but can't find a place to settle until her dad meets a tolerant justice of the peace, who encourages them to come to La Forge in the Dakota Territories. There, Hanna experiences harassment -- and ultimately an attempted sexual assault by drunk men -- because of her race and heritage. She escapes the assault but sustains a bruise and a scratch and has nightmares and anxiety as a result.

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What's the story?

In PRAIRIE LOTUS, Newberry Award- winning author Linda Sue Park takes up the conversation about race and acceptance that Laura Ingals Wilder's Little House series leaves out. Hanna's experience as a half-White, half-Asian girl informs how she goes through life. She hides her face, so that townspeople won't call her names or spit on her, which happens the farther from California that she and her father travel in the U.S. Territories. Having left an Asian community in Los Angeles, Hanna and her father have been traveling for years to find the right town in which to set up a dry goods store. Where there was safety in numbers in California (until a riot shatters the Asian community), Hanna has to rely on a few open-minded people in La Forge, Dakota Territories, who support her right to an education, and her right to exist among the White community. Hanna has worked hard to achieve her dream of becoming a dressmaker, but will the townspeople of La Forge accept her for who she is? Or will she and her father have to leave again to take their chances in another town?

Is it any good?

This deftly woven tale explores the dangers that non-White people faced in homesteading times, and it spares no detail. Much like the Little House series, Prairie Lotus is a fascinating account the everyday life of people who lived in a time before electricity yet enjoyed education and commerce, and who forged new lives in a New World. Hanna knows her life depends on the kindness of others. As seen from a teen's point of view, her honor, duty and fate are tightly bound with her father's. When he says jump, she really jumps -- his survival instincts have him close to exploding. It's a far cry from the warmth and ease that Pa in the Little House books can afford to share with his children. 

Kids will appreciate how strong Hanna is, and how she listens to her mother's wisdom, which lives inside of her, and which helps her navigate the spitefulness of her fellow human beings. Hanna loves to design dresses, which will appeal to fashionable middle graders. She learns to use her skill to woo people into accepting her, which middle graders will also understand. Hanna's life is an example of a story that was never told. In this book, her story helps open hearts and change minds. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Prairie Lotus shows what it meant to be a minority in the United States in the 1880s​​​​​. How have things changed? How have things stayed the same? 

  • In Hanna's world, electricity doesn't light up houses at night, and almost everything is made by hand. What would it be like to depend on your skills to survive?  Would you be able to live without your devices for more than a day?

  • Hanna and her class are delighted when someone reads aloud in class. Do you like to listen to books being read aloud? Why is having something read aloud different than watching a movie or a show?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Asian stories and strong girls

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