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Great stories from Minnesota authors

A well-written story can make the past come alive in a way that television and movies cannot. Many authors have taken the historical events important to Minnesota’s past and intertwined them with an engrossing story that explores how those events shaped people’s lives. Some of these books are by our own lakes area neighbors, like Candace Simar, Leif Enger and the late Jon Hassler.

Simar is a Pequot Lakes writer who has published a three-part series that takes place during the Sioux Uprising of 1862 and the decade that followed it. “Abercrombie Trail” introduces the reader to a fictional Norwegian immigrant family living on the trail between Fort Snelling and Fort Abercrombie, which was a real fort just south of Fargo. Her second book, “Pomme de Terre,” examines the fallout from the Uprising, the fate of two little girls captured by the Sioux, and delicately tells the story from the perspective of a Sioux brave who rescues the girls. “Birdie” catches up with one of those girls 11 years later, during the grasshopper plagues that devastated crops across the Midwest. Simar’s storytelling is rich and gripping, showing all sides of the conflict. The mark of a good historical novel is the sense of being back in that time period, experiencing the joys and trials of the characters, and these three books do so masterfully.

A classic series that takes place in a similar era is Vilhelm Moberg’s “The Emigrants.” The first novel, of the same name, reveals the hardships of the lives of rural farmers in Sweden in the mid-nineteenth century. A group of families living in the same parish decide to make the long journey to America together. We take speedy travel so for granted now that we forget that when someone immigrated to the United States from Europe, they were unlikely to ever see their family in Europe again. What a heartbreaking decision to make, and to then live with for the rest of your life. But the “new world” held great promise for those of sturdy Swedish constitution, and these books, like Simar’s, take the reader back to experience what many of our ancestors did over 150 years ago.

The turbulent 1960s provides the backdrop for two coming-of-age novels, “Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger and “Full Service” by Will Weaver. Both protagonists are boys who live in small-town Minnesota, seemingly sheltered from the Vietnam War and the civil unrest that disrupts American cities, but events large and small affect them despite this. They learn that the world is much bigger than they had imagined, and more uncertain.

The following decade is the setting for Jon Hassler’s classic novel “Staggerford.” The entire book covers one week in the life of a small-town school teacher in the mid-1970s. Hassler condensed so much warmth, character and insight into that week, he continued writing about the town for eleven more novels. Beloved Central Lakes College professor Joseph Plut interviewed Hassler, his friend of nearly 40 years, and collected the humorous and moving stories in a book, “Conversations with Jon Hassler.” It serves as a fine tribute to the memory of a local legend.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Crow Wing County Genealogy Conference, taking place on Saturday, May 5 from 1-4:30 p.m. at the Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter. Family history experts will share their knowledge in three different seminars. Barbara Sommer will focus on the art and science of collecting oral histories, and the best ways to preserve those memories for generations to come. Genealogist Tom Rice will give advice on internet research techniques such as effective searches, key websites, how to find quality information on the web, and how to keep track of all the information you find. Jay Fonkert, a nationally-known speaker and former president of the Minnesota Genealogical Society, will guide us in solving genealogical mysteries using indirect evidence. Do you have a “dead end” somewhere in your family history research, or an ancestor whose parents refuse to be found? Fonkert will detail the methods used to become an “evidence weaver” to solve those frustrating conundrums. In addition, local non-profit groups involved in local and family history will have booths with information about the services and resources they provide. Genealogists of all skill levels will learn practical skills to continue their search for family history successfully. Pre-registration is required for this free event; call the library at 829-5574 to sign up.

The library’s At Home Service continues to grow! Two of the most recent members have always loved to read, but are currently unable to drive due to health issues. I speak with them each month and find books by their favorite authors — plus a few new discoveries — and one of our friendly and enthusiastic library volunteers brings the books right to their door. If you love books but have trouble getting to the library, call Laurel at 829-5574 to find out more about this great personalized service, available for residents of Crow Wing, Cass, and Wadena counties.

LAUREL M. HALL is the senior outreach coordinator for Kitchigami Regional Library System.