HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: New Land: A Novel for Boys and Girls
Author: Sarah Lindsay Schmidt
Illustrator: Frank Dobias
Publisher: R. M. McBride, 1933
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 12-16
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Schmidt, Sarah Lindsay. New Land: A Novel for Boys and Girls (published in 1933 by Robert M. McBride and Co., New York City, NY). It is the 1930s in the early years of the Great Depression. Charles Morgan, his seventeen year old brother and sister twins Charley and Sayre, and his younger daughter Hitty travel in the “Rattleshake,” their Model T Ford, from Chicago, IL, to Upham, WY, near Yellowstone National Park. Mr. Morgan had gone to seminary to become a minister, but eye problems forced him to change plans and has kept him from holding any job for long. With help from Aunt Mehitable, principal in a big New York City school, he ran a shoe store in Ohio, a hardware store in Michigan, and a bookstore in New York City, but they all failed. The family then drifted to West Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, where the children’s mother died of pneumonia three years previous, before landing in Chicago where Dad clerked in Reeves and Bebee’s department store. However, a fellow clerk named Sam Parsons tells him that he can have for their new home an eighty acre homestead in the Pawaukee Irrigation Project area of western Wyoming which Parsons had abandoned.
The first people whom the Morgans meet in Upham are Frank Hoskins, a boy Charley’s age, and his father Franklin Hoskins, who owns a big store and is a very important man in town. Charley and Sayre enroll in school, study agriculture with Mr. Kitchell, the vo-ag teacher, and throw themselves wholeheartedly into making the farm successful with both crops and livestock. However, problems develop. Mr. Hoskins, who wants to control the town, turns against them because he disagrees with Kitchell’s methods and because Charley seems to be outdoing his son Frank. Then Mr. Parsons arrives and acts as if he wants to take his claim back. There is a terrible, cold, snowy winter. And Charley is accused of trying to sell alfalfa which he knew had weevil in it. Can the Morgans make a go of it? Or will they fail again and lose their land? And what happens when Frank and Charley are lost in a freak late blizzard when returning from a stock judging contest? New Land, which was a Newbery Honor Book in 1934, is a story about a family which is led by a downtrodden dad but gains self-respect by working day and night to convert a rundown claim into a respectable farm.
The book helps to explain the despair found in the common farmer and would make a good literature piece in 1930s units on American history. Sayre is one in a long line of spunky Newbery heroines. The book is told from her perspective. There are a few common euphemisms (gosh, darn), and Frank Jr. yells when Charley tries to make up with him, “Not – on – your d— life” (spelled just like that in the book). But both the plot factors working against the Morgans and the characters are all well-developed, and the story, which covers approximately two years, is exceptionally interesting. While the reader quickly learns who the good guys and the bad guys are, it turns out that the bad guys aren’t really that bad after all, and without spoiling the resolution, the final chapter is entitled “The Happy Ending.” The book will have particular value for those who are interested in farming and in the history of Wyoming.