Even though the weather here was fairly moderate, several years ago, on January 12, 1888, schoolchildren in the Midwest plains endured one of the worst blizzards in our nation's history, "The Schoolchildren's Blizzard." The blizzard developed suddenly and without warning after a stint of warm weather. Despite many brave acts, hundreds perished that day including children walking home from their one-room schoolhouses.
One of more widely known accounts of The Schoolchildren's Blizzard is that of a school teacher named Minnie Freeman who led her students to safety. (In fact, a historical marker in Nebraska mentions Miss Freeman.) Marty Rhodes Figley's early reader historical fiction book, The Schoolchildren's Blizzard shares Miss Freeman's heroics with young readers. Though fiction, the book provides readers with an idea of what it might have been like to have been one of Miss Freeman's students when that dangerous January 1888 Blizzard hit.
Seven-year-old Annie and her older sister, Sarah, walk across the Nebraska prairie to their sod schoolhouse on a relatively warm January day in 1888. Once inside the school they learn from their kind and smart teacher, Miss Freeman. Their day goes smoothly until lunch time. The school children spot ominous clouds and quickly head back into the schoolhouse. The roaring blizzard winds wreak havoc on the sod schoolhouse, and Miss Freeman decides they must walk together through the blizzard to her house if they stand a chance of surviving the storm.
Figley skillfully tells the gripping story of the terrible, historical blizzard in a way perfectly suited for young readers and, true to life, the story ends happily. Shelly O. Haas's muted watercolor pictures help in setting a gentle tone. Despite the subject, the story overall isn't too frightening or upsetting and it contains slightly subdued descriptions of possible events. The school door flies open, part of the sod schoolhouse roof blows off, and the children trudge blindly through knee-deep snow but positivity endures. In Figley's retelling, Miss Freeman remains calm, collected and encouraging -- a strong role model for her students and for the readers.
The Schoolchildren's Blizzard (On My Own History) by Marty Rhodes Figley, illustrated by Shelly O. Haas. Carolrhoda Books / Lerner Publishing (2004); ISBN 9781575056197; 48 pagesRelated Links:
Book Source: Copy from public library
Marty Rhodes Figley - Website
Shelly O. Haas - Website
Mural depicting the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888 - Nebraska State Capitol
Blizzard of January 12, 1888 - Nebraska State Historical Society Blog
- "Minnie Freeman: The Little Girl by the Window in the Little Sod House" Omaha Bee, Feb. 24 [pdf via NYTimes.com]
Charting and comparing temperatures - The Schoolchildren's Blizzard
It's hard for a 1st grader to visualize just how cold it got during the January 1888 Blizzard so I decided to have my daughter chart a temperature comparison. We used the Daily Weather History information available at Weather Underground to determine the high temperature on Jan. 11 and the low temperature on Jan. 12 in our area (55° and 15°F). My daughter used a thermometer chart to compare these temperatures to the 1888 temperatures found on Marty Rhodes Figley's website (70° and -30°F).
Many children today don't know a lot about life in a one-room schoolhouse. Through books like The Schoolchildren's Blizzard they can learn more about pioneer life, America's history and the struggles and happy times that children experienced in the past. It is important to me that my children take the time to learn and inquire about such things. As part of our studies we found a neat picture of sod schoolhouse at the Library of Congress website.
Both my parents attended a one-room schoolhouse for a short time, as did my grandparents. This story prompted us to ask them more about their experiences. We learned that none of them had to remain overnight at school, caught in a storm. My grandmother also told us that the teacher boarded with her family. She and her siblings would ride with the teacher to school instead of walking. The teacher kept the horse in the school's horse shelter. I didn't realize some one-room schoolhouses had their own animal buildings, but it does make sense!
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