One Big Open Sky

by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Author)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade
Three women narrate a perilous wagon journey westward that could set them free—or cost them everything they have—in this intergenerational verse novel that explores the history of the Black homesteader movement.

1879, Mississippi. Young dreamer Lettie may have her head in the stars, but her body is on a covered wagon heading westward. Her father, Thomas, promises that Nebraska will be everything the family needs: an opportunity to claim the independence they’ve strived for over generations on their very own plot of land.

But Thomas’ hopes—and mouth—are bigger than his ability to follow through. With few supplies and even less money, the only thing that feels certain is danger.

Right after the war ended/and we were free/we believed/all of us did/that couldn’t nothing hurt us/the way master had when we were slaves/Couldn’t no one tell us/how to live/how to die.

Lettie, her mother, Sylvia, and young teacher Philomena are free from slavery—but bound by poverty, access to opportunity, and patriarchal social structures. Will these women survive the hardships of their journey? And as Thomas’ desire for control overpowers his common sense, will they truly be free once they get there?

Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransome’s striking verse masterfully portrays an underrepresented historical era. Tackling powerful themes of autonomy and Black self-emancipation, Cline-Ransome offers readers an intimate look into the lives of three women and an expansive portrait of generations striving for their promised freedom.

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
A deeply moving story that centers a distinctive part of the African American story.

Publishers Weekly

Three generations of Black women--young Lettie, her mother, and teacher Philomena--take turns narrating a challenging westward journey in this gripping historical verse novel, set in 1879. After learning about land that they can own and operate in Nebraska, Lettie's stubborn but ambitious father urges the family to leave Mississippi; he believes that migrating west and living as homesteaders will provide them with better economic prospects. Traveling in small communities known as companies, Lettie and nine other families journey westward; during their expedition they traverse turbulent rivers and encounter infectious disease all while being mindful of their dwindling finances. Lettie's pregnant mother tries to maintain morale among her children, but the relentless travel conditions begin to take a toll on her. Along the way, they meet Philomena, who offers herself--and her meager but needed capital--to Lettie's family as a helping hand in exchange for safe passage west. Though the alternating perspectives are occasionally repetitive, through them Cline-Ransome (Being Clem) depicts a harrowing tale. The novel's slow-burn pacing and the meticulously layered intersections of each protagonist's experience deftly captures the lengths to which Black people--particularly women--would go in pursuit of freedom in the post-Reconstruction era. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

★ "Cline-Ransome once again demonstrates her incredible literary skills. . . a deeply moving story that centers a distinctive part of the African American story."—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

"[A] gripping historical verse novel. . . The meticulously layered intersections of each protagonist's experience deftly captures the lengths to which Black people—particularly women—would go in pursuit of freedom in the post-Reconstruction era."—Publishers Weekly
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of more than twenty books for young readers including the award-winning Finding Langston trilogy. Her work has received a plethora of honors, including dozens of starred reviews, NAACP Image Award nominations, a Coretta Scott King honor, the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction and a Christopher Award. Her work has been named to ALA Notable Books and Bank Street Best Children's Book lists and she lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Holiday House
Publication date
March 20, 2024
BISAC categories
JUV011010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JUV057000 - Juvenile Fiction | Stories in Verse (see also Poetry)
JUV016140 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | United States - 19th Century
Library of Congress categories
19th century
African Americans
United States
Frontier and pioneer life
Novels in verse
Historical fiction
Wagon trains
Western fiction

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