10 Middle Grade Books About The Pioneer Era (That Aren’t LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE)

It was announced at this past week’s American Library Association Convention that a division of the ALA has voted to remove the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from a major children’s book award, over concerns about how the author portrayed African Americans and Native Americans. This has brought renewed attention to some of the content of Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, and leaves room for readers to discover some other works exploring the 19th century American frontier through a more contemporary lens.

Here are some middle grade historical fiction titles exploring that era and place, which contain many of the same family dynamics, adventure, and optimism of Wilder’s books.

 

Middle grade books about pioneer life that aren't little house on the prairie

 

cover of birchbark house by louise erdrichThe Birchbark House (series) by Louise Erdrich

This series, based on the award-winning Indigenous author’s family history, begins in 1847 with the story of a young Ojibwa girl named Omakayas. Omakayas’s story progresses through The Game of Silence and The Porcupine Year, followed by two books named after new protagonists, Chickadee and Makoons.

 

 

our only may amelia cover imageOur Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

This Newbery Honor book, based on the author’s great-aunt, follows the life of 12-year-old May Amelia in Washington state in 1899. May Amelia, the only girl ever born in the new settlement, has seven older brothers and a love of adventure. This is a beautifully crafted tale of one young girl whose unique spirit captures the courage, humour, passion, and depth of the American pioneer experience.

 

ballad of lucy whipple cover imageThe Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman

Cushman brings her mastery of historical voice to this tale of a young girl coming of age during the California Gold Rush. Lucy Whipple doesn’t care for her new hometown in Lucky Diggins, California. Not only is it barely a town, but there’s no lending library! Lucy vows to be plain miserable until she can hightail it back East where she belongs.

 

may b by caroline starr rose cover imageMay B. by Caroline Starr Rose

May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter.

 

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy cover imageLizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

Turner Buckminster is the son of a minister of a small Maine town, near Malaga Island—a poor community founded by former slaves. He makes friends with Lizzie, who lives on the island, and together they try to save her community. An engaging novel that shines a light on a lesser-known situation in American history.

 

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse cover imageIn the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph M. Marshall III

Jimmy McClean is a half-white, half-Lakota boy living in the 21st century. When he embarks on a journey with his Lakota grandfather, he learns the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota history. Drawing inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition and the Lakota cultural mechanism of the “hero story,” the author provides an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse.

 

elijah of buxton cover imageElijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Elijah is the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit. When a former slave steals money from Elijah’s friend, who has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the South, Elijah embarks on a dangerous journey to America in pursuit of the thief. On the way, he discovers firsthand the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents fled—a life from which he’ll always be free, if he can find the courage to get back home.

 

the evolution of calpurnia tate cover imageThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (series) by Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Dear America (series) by various authors

This series was re-launched in 2010 with new titles, some of which focus on characters from marginalized backgrounds and are written by authors from diverse backgrounds. Some titles from this series which explore a similar era to the Little House series include:

A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859 by Patricia McKissack

I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina, 1865 by Joyce Hansen

With the Might of Angels: The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson, Hadley, Virginia, 1954 by Andrea Davis Pinkney

 

Additionally, American Girl’s Josefina series about a Mexican girl, and Addy series about an African American girl offer portrayals of girlhood in America during the 19th century.

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