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The Best Books On The Prairie

Edwin Olson/Google Images -- CC


Whether it's the sound of the wind rustling through the tall grass, the crackling spectacle of a controlled burn or just the sheer enormity of this swath of land, the prairie has inspired authors for hundreds of years. We discuss the best books about the prairie with our Book Critics Jeffrey Ann Goudie, Mark Luce and Kaite Stover.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie, freelance journalist and book critic:

  • The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich
  • Rima in the Weeds by Deirdre McNamer
  • Bent Road by Lori Roy
  • The Oz series by L. Frank Baum

Mark Luce, teacher, Barstow School

  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The photography of Terry Evans
  • So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • August Osage County by Tracy Letts

Kaite Stover, readers' service representative, Kansas City Public Library

  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink — A Newbery Award winner. It's the story of her grandmother.
  • Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography edited by Pamela Smith Hill — This is the little book that could. The first-run printing sold out in days, the second run not long after, from a tiny press that is completely besides itself.
  • A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert — More notably known for her herbal mystery series, so what's up with THIS?
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder — The children's classic that's never won a damn thing. Go figure.

KCUR staff picks:

Maria Carter:

  • I read Sarah, Plain and Tall sitting on a park bench a few weeks ago.  It's a kids' book and a short read. Sarah comes to appreciate the beauty of the prairie after growing up on the Maine coast.

Laura Spencer and Laura Ziegler:

  • My Antonia by Willa Cather

Dan Margolies:

  • The entire Willa Cather trilogy: O Pioneers, The Song of the Lark and My Antonia.

Gina Kaufmann:

  • On Fire by Larry Schwarm

David Fulk:

  • Marilyn Robinson’s books: Gilead, Home and Lila (all three set in Iowa).

Jeremy Bernfeld:

  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Angela Elam:

  • The obvious non-fiction book, PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon. I read it two weeks after I moved to Kansas and found it very insightful about the land and people.
  • These Were the Sioux by Mari Sandoz. It's about the Sioux in the Nebraska Sandhills when she was a child in the early nineteenth century.  
  • I still carry the late Carol Shields' novel, The Stone Diaries, around in my imagination.
  • More recently, Richard Ford deals with the upper prairies in his novel, Canada.
  • Local author Laura Moriarty often sets contemporary characters in the Kansas landscape of her novels, making us realize it's not the middle of nowhere, but The Middle of Everything.

C.J. Janovy:

  • Old Jules by Mari Sandoz.
  • Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time.

Linda Sher:

  • One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus.

Eds note: This post has been corrected; an earlier version listed Mari Sandoz's 'Old Jules' as fiction.


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