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Another Prairie Perspective

This summer I learned of a book that intrigued me. A Sky Full of Song by Susan Lynn Meyer (published by Union Square Kids, 2023). 

Susan Lynn Meyer is a master storyteller. The book tells the story of 11-year-old Shoshana, a Jewish immigrant in North Dakota in 1905. After reading A Sky Full of Song, I couldn't help but to want to know more about how this book came to be. And I thought this blog would be the perfect place to share a bit of an interview with the author. 

Obviously, I'm a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, but I like to remind readers (adults and children) that the Little House books are just one historical perspective. A Sky Full of Song shares another perspective. 

Please read this insightful interview with professor and author Susan Lynn Meyer.


Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion/Annette Whipple: Please tell us about yourself!

Susan Lynn Meyer: Hi, and thank you for your interest in my book, Annette! I’m the author of six books for children, three picture books and three middle-grade historical novels. I’m also a professor of English and Creative Writing at Wellesley College, and I live outside Boston. A SKY FULL OF SONG was published this year by Union Square Kids.

Annette: I really appreciated the perspective of a Jewish immigrant family from Russia. I'd like to hear more about Shoshana's inspiration. 

Susan: One day I was idly looking at a photo of a family in front of a dugout. I started thinking about the fiction of Willa Cather and Laura Ingalls Wilder, both powerful and hugely influential chroniclers of the experience of homesteaders who have shaped our understanding of this aspect of American history. A lot of my fiction is about Jews, and I began to wonder whether if by any chance any Jews had ever homesteaded. I began to investigate, and I learned that yes, a small but significant number of Jews did! Nearly all were refugees from oppression in the Russian Empire. Most of these Jews wanted to settle in cities, but some were very tempted by the promise of land after being prohibited from owning land in Russia. As I read about this history, a novel started to shape itself in my head—a novel about an eleven-year-old girl who falls in love with farming life and with the free, vast openness of the prairie. 

Annette: How did you choose North Dakota in 1905 as the setting for A Sky Full of Song? 

Susan: My research revealed that the Jews who took up homesteading in America arrived relatively late, when much of the most desirable, arable land was already taken. Most of them settled in North and South Dakota, so that’s how I chose.

Annette: As a Christian, I hated reading some of the hateful and hurtful words said to Shoshana. It made me uncomfortable and embarrassed. But for many, those interactions are what's most remembered about people of Christian faith so I know they were important to your story. Please briefly share about the harsh reality then and now of anti-semitism--even from "friends." 

Susan: Thank you for sharing that reaction with me. It helps me to understand and be sensitive to that point of view, though of course the behavior of these settlers is in no way a reflection on all present-day Christians. In A SKY FULL OF SONG, a few of the non-Jewish settlers respond to the Rozumny family with suspicion or hostility. One older boy in particular leads his friends to bully Shoshana. Because this novel is for children, it gives a very toned-down representation of the social situation faced by actual Jewish settlers in the early 1900s, where sometimes they encountered much worse harassment and violence, even including murder. Some of the Christian characters in the novel behave generously or befriend the Rozumnys. But sometimes they make comments intending to be kind that in fact are confusing and painful to receive. At one point Evie, a delightful girl who becomes Shoshana’s closest friend, reassures her that anytime she wants to, she can accept Jesus as her savior and be washed clean of sin. This kind of thing does still happen. I remember as a child hearing, “Jews killed our Lord.” A few years, a little girl I know got very upset thinking that non-Christians would go to hell and went around telling them that and urging people to accept Jesus—entirely out of love and concern. That was so well-intentioned and innocent, but it upset a Jewish girl I know. In the novel, in response to moments like these, Shoshana struggles to figure out how much she wants to change to fit in with the other people around them and how much she wants to hold on to her Jewish identity.

Annette: Our words matter. Thank you for sharing with grace. 

I love how this book shares another prairie and pioneer perspective beyond the Little House books. Did you have that in mind as you wrote A Sky Full of Song? 

Susan: I did! Even Laura Ingalls Wilder said of herself, “All I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth.” There are other stories to be told, and I wanted to represent more of the diversity and complexity of the frontier experience. I also wanted to be sure I acknowledged the experience of the displaced Native people who had lived on the land before the settlers. So they too have a presence in the novel.

Annette: What else do you want us to know about A Sky Full of Song?

Susan: Although the novel is partly about immigrant struggles, it is also very much about gladness. Its emotional heart is Shoshana’s experience of awe at the beauty of the prairie landscape, her pleasure and frustration in learning to play the fiddle her father has brought from Russia, her happiness at making new friends, and her intense bond of love with her family.

Annette: Where can readers find you?

Susan: I’d be delighted to have you visit my website, I love doing school visits, both virtually and in person. Also, if you happen to be in the Boston area, my next public event is a reading at Wellesley Books in Wellesley, MA on Saturday, October 7 at 2:00 PM.

Annette: Thanks so much, Susan! Your a skilled wordsmith sharing important stories. I'm grateful you shared insight into A Sky Full of Song.


I was eager to read A Sky Full of Song. Now I'm even more excited to recommend it to you. Add it to your shelf. Add it to your TBR list. Read it as an adult. Give it to a child. Ask for it at your local bookstore and/or library. It's available for purchase wherever books are sold.  (Including here online.) It's a story worth reading and sharing. 

Annette Whipple writes nonfiction books for children, including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide which includes history, discussion, photographs, and 75 activities so readers can "live like Laura." Learn more about her books and presentations at

1 comment

  1. What a marvelous appreciation, Annette! I, too, was lucky enough to read Susan Meyer's book - a remarkable telling of a most unusual situation and setting.