I Survived: The Children’s Blizzard, 1888

Written by Lauren Tarshis
Review by Xina Marie Uhl

Chicago-born 11-year-old John Hale’s family has moved to the Dakota prairie, and he contends with the challenges of farming in a brutal environment as well a city boy can. Action builds as winter comes, and brings with it a deadly Midwestern blizzard that kills hundreds and traps John and his friends in a life-or-death struggle for survival.

Packed full of 19th-century American history from a kid’s point of view, this novel educates about the sod houses, isolated pioneer life, and difficulties of farming amidst plagues of locusts, unobtrusively making it a perfect addition to class lessons on the time period. John’s adventures will thrill boys who appreciate some minor gross humor and exciting action scenes. By the end of the book John has grown and survived the winter of major discontent. He provides a sympathetic window into the hardscrabble life of a pioneer.

Written with simple language and short sentences, the grade level seems closer to 3rd than 4th, but readers will likely not be put off by that. The author’s note at the end gives a lively look at how she developed the story, that could inspire readers toward their own creative endeavors. The Q&A and reading suggestions also do an effective job of piquing readers’ interest in learning more. While the author’s reliance on the passive voice and plenty of exposition makes for a less vivid read than it might have been, the story and character arcs hit all the right places for a satisfying literary journey. Recommended.