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The Children's Blizzard

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  5,833 ratings  ·  685 reviews
Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America’s heartland would never be the same.

This P.S. edition featu
Paperback, 336 pages
Published October 11th 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published November 1st 2004)
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This is a powerful story, of an event little known outside the Upper Midwest. This is the story of a freak blizzard of incredible intensity, that left hundreds dead, many of them school children trying to make their way home from country schools.

I've always been interested in the late 1800's, perhaps because of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was young. The stories of the families told here are very moving. The technical information about the formation of the weather system occasionally made
In The Children’s Blizzard David Laskin explores the January 12, 1888 ‘children’s blizzard’ which devastated an area of the United States then known as the Dakota Territory. It came to be known by this unfortunate name because of the high number of its youthful victims.

Laskin begins back in the ‘Old World’ and tells of all the sacrifices, heartaches and struggles endured by the hardy folk who settled the Dakota Territory. They had already left everything behind, spent all they had, lost children
I applaud Laskin for his effort - it must be hard work to take an account of the scariest blizzard ever and turn it into a sloppy, sodden, boring mess.

The blatant, sloppy mistakes early on were my first clue that all was not quite right in the state of Denmark. (For instance! Laskin quotes from Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter and mis-identifies one of the schoolgirls as Laura's sister, Mary. No, dipshit - Mary was blind and she stayed at home. Reading comprehension is key.)

... Laskin is
Children’s Blizzard

This was part of my Winter 2013 DISASTER! Themed read.

I don’t know where to start. You can read about disasters, and frequently, they’re off in remote mountains- the Andes, the Himalayans, etc., and this geographical distance creates a buffer between the reader and the book. You feel terrible for the people going through the ordeal, you can sympathize with their pain, but even if you’ve been in mountains it’s hard to imagine the remoteness and the vastness of some of those ec
☔Diane S.
I have heard of this before. the blizzard that killed over 200 children and adults Settlers coming from Europe to the Dakotas for the opportunity to own land and for some being able to practice their own religions, such as the Quakers and Mennonites. MAny lost children on the way over in the ships, and many arrived to late to plant for that season and lost children to starvation. MAny had only flour and would make a burnt flour soup, containing only flour and water. Heartbreaking. The relief soc ...more
I have come to realize that, while most of what I read is fiction, that one of my favorite kind of books are non-fiction stories that are written like novels, particularly stories about unknown or underreported events in American history. I'm fascinated by books such as Stewart O'Nan's The Circus Fire, the story of the 1942 Hartford Circus fire and Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven about the fringe extremist Mormon groups. This book was along those lines, and I gobbled it up.

It tells the
"You could hardly see your hand before you or draw your breath and with the intense cold roaring wind and darkness it would appall the stoutest heart." --a farmer describing the 1888 blizzard

Terms I learned while reading this book:

cold stupid: mountaineer slang for the slow reaction times and uncharacteristic peevishness that signal the early stages of hypothermia

paradoxical undressing: the point in late-stage hypothermia in which victims feel so hot that they begin tearing off their clothes and
Evanston Public  Library
Does it look like snow outside? Chicagoans are by no means strangers to the extremes of weather. Furious winds, bitter cold, icy roads, piles of snow, massive drifts, endless hours of shoveling, “dibs” on dug-out parking spaces, and the exhaustion in dealing with it all form the list of gripes we all have with winter. But Laskin’s moving account of a spectacular and devastating blizzard on January 12, 1888, followed by a record-breaking cold front will have you thanking your lucky stars you live ...more
The children's blizard of 1888 is a well researched and well written book. On Jan. 12, 1888, the sun came up on a beautiful day with moderating temperatures in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Many children went to scholl without their boots, hats, gloves and warm coats. Mary farmers ventured out to work on projects away from the farms. In the early afternoon, the weather made a dramatic change, from warm and sunny to a blizzard. Many children were either trapped at school or caught in the blizzard as ...more
The topic is fascinating; the research seems to have been thorough. I have given the book a low rating because this is presented as a non-fiction book. Laskin does not indicate in the text when dialogues and monologues are based on fact and when they are a flight of his fancy. He explains in the end notes that his understanding of the victim's culture or faith gives him the right to assign words and thoughts to a dying person. It doesn't. I would be very upset if any of them were my relatives. T ...more
Nancy Brady
This is a difficult book to read (because of the details about the people and the events), thus it's a hard book to like. That being said, it is, at times, a compelling read about this once-in-a-lifetime-storm.

The January 12, 1888 blizzard that hit the Midwest, particularly the Dakota territory, came on quickly and was devastating to men, women, children, and animals alike. While meteorological mishaps affected the outcome of this storm, it was not the only thing to blame. Politics certainly pl
Jane Hoppe
David Laskin thoroughly researched the January 12, 1888, blizzard that took so many lives and marked generations of settlers on the Midwest prairie. If you read this book, you'll get to know affected families by reading their stories of immigrating from the old country and homesteading in the Dakota territory. And you'll learn the scientific and political states of meteorology in the late 1800s. You'll learn what pioneer life was like on farms and in towns.

I liked the author's storytelling style
Nov 25, 2008 Karla rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, weather lovers, genealogists researching the area
This was my second time through reading this book---both times for book clubs. Geez, I wish I retained things better. The only thing I retain is water.
Part of me really enjoyed this book. I found myself really interested in the five families the author concentrated on, their immigration journeys, their decisions to travel to the prairies. But what about the Native Americans? Seems to me that there must have been a sizeable number of them on the prairies and I don't remember a word about them. An
Oh my, this book taught me much about the weather and it's crazy turns and crisis' it can bring on. I feel so for the poor pioneers of Jan. 12, 1888 and what they endured in that blizzard.

Jan. 12, 1888 had started out to be an unseasonably warm day across the Dakotas, Nebraska, Illinois. Children had gone to school either without coats and gloves or very light outer wear. By afternoon of that day the sky exploded into a mess of horizontal snow and tornadic like winds. Temperatures started to plu
Aug 23, 2013 Margie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Margie by: Joan
When I lived in Nebraska, we always heard about the brave young teacher who saved her students by tying them together as they walked to safety. We also heard about the people who froze to death while trying to find their way from their barn to the house, just 50 yards away.

White-out conditions can mean not being able to see your hand in front of your face. This storm hit on a balmy day with such suddenness and fury that people who were outside couldn't find their way in. People who were already
☆ Ruth ☆
A very interesting but tragic event in American history.
This book would have really benefited from good editing! The narrative jumps about too much and gets far too bogged down in technical weather data. There is also a great deal of extraneous information, which I found frustrating. That said if you can cope with these irritations it's worth reading for the human interest and the fascinating historical background details describing the dreadful trials and tribulations of the early settlers on
Another danger that the early settlers to the plains had to worry about---blizzards. Laskin lays out the historical groundwork, and fills it in. Some parts are painful to read, realizing how little was known about frostbite and hypothermia in the 1880's, let alone communications. I was touched by the help and support that families gave to one another. The book especially interested me since I lived in South Dakota in the late 70's, but knew nothing about this particular blizzard.
Gail Klein
This book was incredibly well researched. Although the story itself was very interesting, I found the stories of the people far more interesting than the facts about weather prediction!
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
The Children's Blizzard is another one of my favorite non-fiction books. Like Isaac's Storm, it's also another book for weather geeks. This time the weather disaster is the January 12, 1888 blizzard that hit the Great Plains. Since this occurred just 12 years before the Galveston Hurricane, there was present in the national Weather Service infighting, jealousy, and control of information, and another disaster happened without any clear warning sent to the public. Arguably, in this case, even if ...more
"The Children's Blizzard" is a historical account of a blizzard that occurred on the Great Plains in 1888 that has been remembered ever since. It is a mixture of straight historical reporting, weather analysis, medical facts and Ken Burns' style storytelling. It makes for a compelling read, although some parts are better than others.

Obviously, the most compelling aspects of the book are the people, and particularly, the children who were caught in the storm. There are numerous stories about the
Nancy Oakes
In January of 1888, a terrible blizzard, which came to be known as the "Schoolchildren’s Blizzard" blew in across the Nebraska & Dakota Territory prairie. It was so-called because the deaths from the blizzard were largely of children who left school because of the bad weather coming. Sadly, they left "at the moment when the wind shifted and the sky exploded (2)."

Using a wide variety of sources, Laskin has put together this account of that fateful day, but the book is much more than just a r
Beth Cato
As a child, I was obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. I read them each over again times beyond count, but my very favorite was The Long Winter. It accounted how Laura's family and the town of De Smet, South Dakota, struggled to survive a brutal winter of low food and fuel. A morbid book, to be sure--I guess it's no surprise that I've grown up to write post-apocalyptic tales of survival, and I still have a keen interest in historical tales of survival as well.

As I began to r
There's a lot of pain in this book, and how appropriate to read during Holy Week. To be honest I'm skimming over some of the pain--the author is excruciating in detail, and, to his credit, he doesn't forget the emotions that go along with the pain. Laskin's love of weather is apparent in the way he researches and lets a great blizzard grow in the region and in our imaginations. He spends several pages on the electricity ("St. Elmo's fire) and all the other details that allowed such an immense st ...more
Themes: weather, adversity, family, faith, science
Setting: January 1888, Dakota territory, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska

January on the prairie is never exactly balmy. The weather had been very cold all month. Then it warmed up for a while - not a lot, but enough that people seized the chance to get outside and tend to a few neglected chores, repairing the roof, feeding the livestock, bringing in more fuel for the fire, and sending the kids to school. All of which put them into danger.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the settlers who had to endure such hardships each and every day, and then to be struck out of nowhere by a blizzard of this magnitude. Talk about a cruel trick of nature -- balmy weather one minute, and then the next blinding snow, wind that would knock you over, and extreme cold. How desperate those parents must have been not knowing if their children were still at school or struggling home across the prairie! Just today I was feeling in agony be ...more
I had never heard of this event until stumbling on this book but was intrigued enough to read it. And can I just say, WOW. While I did get a bit bogged down in the very necessary description of the state of climatology back then and with the political infighting in what passed for the national weather service, the parts of the book (the majority) that described the blizzard and the survivors and victims was riveting. And seriously haunting.
Very well-written historical account.
Aug 06, 2007 Jessica rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: someone who is thinking of moving to the great plains
i bought this at the sale section in wall drug, south dakota. not wanting to spend $500 on a fake buffalo rug, i thought a $6 book would be a more intelligent choice. i still stand by that theory, however, i have to say, if you find this book for more than $6 outside of wall drug, i probably wouldn't suggest it.

the fact that this blizzard actually occurred was fascinating. following the stories of the families in the plains was interesting, though the author tends towards jumping from one thoug
It's hard to read narrative nonfiction without constantly comparing it to "In the Heart of the Sea," which is one of the best books I've ever read. "The Children's Blizzard" doesn't come even close to meeting that kind of factual depth---or that thrill. I admit, in fact, to having skipped over most of the chapters about meteorology and the history of forecasting. One feels that Laskin himself lacks the passion it would take to explain such topics with the kind of creative force to make it both u ...more
I carried this sucker all over the southeastern part of the US and didn't manage to start it until today. When I sat, unmoving, for about 3 hours and finished it right then and there.

Parts were over dramatic, and other parts were boring. (I really didn't care about the bureaucratic screw-ups of the Army Signal Corp, especially since it was already noted that no one then could have saw what was going to happen.) But I loved following these families from their immigration in the 70s and the birth
Wonderful book that may have helped our family make sense of terrible blizzard in October 2013. There seems many theories for animal behavior but it is perplexing realizing some animals followed herd to certain death this year. Laskin did background many early settlers who came to Dakotas from Europe. He failed to portray the actuality of natives who survive just as bison walk into the wind instead of drifting before wind taking the path of least resistance. Laskin researched 1880s weather in Da ...more
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Asesinatos y Desastres 1 1 Jul 01, 2015 07:46AM  
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Born in Brooklyn and raised in Great Neck, New York, I grew up hearing stories that my immigrant Jewish grandparents told about the “old country” (Russia) that they left at the turn of the last century. When I was a teenager, my mother’s parents began making yearly trips to visit our relatives in Israel, and stories about the Israeli family sifted down to me as well. What I never heard growing up ...more
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“Gro Rollag was no beauty, but she was a strong capable young woman with a long face, prominent cheekbones, high forehead, and a kindly intelligent look in her rather narrow eyes. According to family lore, she was not the most conscientious housekeeper because she preferred reading to housework. A love of books and reading ran in the family. Of all the possessions they were forced to sell or leave behind in Norway, what the Rollags remembered with deepest regret was the library they inherited from an eighteenth-century ancestor - lovely old books sold to pay for their passage to America.” 1 likes
“hot and dry early that year, and by the Fourth of July the grass was parched and brown and stubby. The young Teddy Roosevelt, traveling through the north part of Dakota Territory on the way to his ranches near Medora, told a newspaper reporter in mid-July that “Between the drouth, the” 0 likes
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