Sweet Home Alaska, by Carole Estby Dagg, is historical fiction based on the 1930’s New Deal Program instituted by President Delano Roosevelt. The government “took two hundred and two families off relief and shipped them up to Alaska to become self-sufficient farmers.” (See Author Notes p. 289) The story begins November, 1934.
The book centers around Terpsichore who at age eleven is the oldest of three other siblings. Next to her are twins, Cally and Polly, and last is baby Matthew. Their journey begins from Wisconsin.
Terpsichore loves the Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy, the only two books that have been published by Laura Ingalls Wilder at this time in history. Terpsichore is excited to live out the pioneering spirit found in the Little House books when her family, much against her mother’s will, decides to take advantage of the New Deal Program and move to Alaska.
Terpsichore’s mother loves the finer things in life, is musically inclined, and has taught Cally and Polly to play the piano and sing with amazing ability. Since Terpsichore has no musical talent, she feels left out. Her goal becomes: to make a name for herself in some other area. The first area in which she begins to make a name for herself is by secretly filling out the papers to apply for the move to Alaska. Their mother’s piano has to be sold before the move due to financial difficulty.
The trip to Alaska is hard. Families are crammed tightly into a boat, and have to deal with a measles epidemic not to mention problems with seasickness. When they arrive in Alaska, they have to share tents with other families until more tents are made available. Once each family is moved to a tent, then the process of clearing their plots of land, and building log barns and houses begins. Of course each family wants to be in a solid home before the cold winter months arrive.
Once in Alaska, Terpsichore starts a library, and encourages her mother to write to Eleanor Roosevelt which results in getting the families moved out of their tents and into houses. The government also sends help and a hospital is built from ground up in six hours. A church is added later.
Carole Dagg develops Terpsichore’s character as she interacts with new friends which are very different from her. Mendel is a bug and engineer enthusiast, and Gloria is all about movies and the big screen. They are very effective in helping each other using the knowledge that comes from these areas. Terpsichore’s chief talents are gardening, cooking, planning, and completing projects.
The whole family has come to love Alaska and wants to stay, except for Terpsichore’s mother. And the final decision falls to her. She will make that decision after the end of summer fair.
Terpsichore sets out to grow the biggest pumpkin to win a prize at the fair, using Almanzo’s technique described in Farmer Boy (feeding milk by a wick to the pumpkin). (NOTE: The book gives better information for growing a giant sized pumpkin than I have ever seen in any gardening book.)
Terpsichore plans to win the prize of $25 for the biggest vegetable at the fair and then add money to that by selling cookbooks with Alaskan recipes. Her goal—to purchase for her mother an item that will make her want to stay in Alaska. The item costs $75.
I will let you read the book to find out if Terpsichore reaches her goals— to make $75 and to make a name for herself. The book is filled with information on gardening, making strong family ties, how to treat friends and neighbors, and how to work together to achieve a better way of life. Carole Dagg shares these concepts through intriguing storytelling that pulls the reader in and makes you want to know—what happens next?
I highly recommend this book for middle grade boys and girls. Parents will love the story, too.
To any writers reading this blog, I wanted to let you know that on the Amazon, about the author page, Carole Estby Dagg says, “My first book, The Year We Were Famous, came out the year I turned 67.” Sweet Home Alaska came out after that. So any older writers who are struggling to get their first book published, can have hope in Mrs. Dagg’s publishing story:)