Remembering the Children’s Blizzard of 1888

Special thanks to digital intern Katharine Seggerman for the following post!

Next Thursday marks a grisly anniversary for residents of the upper Midwest: the so-called Children’s Blizzard, which occurred on January 12, 1888. On this day, an unexpected blizzard swept through the portion of the Midwest encompassing the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota. The devastation was brutal, with at least 250 reported human deaths, a major loss of cattle life, and many more casualties that either went unreported or happened weeks afterwards due to complications such as frostbite.
How did such a tragedy happen? The Children’s Blizzard of 1888: A Cause-and-Effect Investigation, an eBook in Lerner Digital’s new “Cause-and-Effect Disasters” series, addresses this question holistically with an engaging combination of historical context and solid weather science. Created for curious readers ages 9-12, the eBook details the harsh living conditions of those early settlers of the Plains (who were tempted westward by the Homestead Act, which awarded huge plots of land to committed farmers for the nominal fee of $18) before describing how technological limitations, false hope, and poor timing culminated in so many schoolchildren getting lost in the storm or freezing to death in their schoolhouses. The eBook itself culminates in a helpful Cause and Effect chart that illustrates how this tragedy occurred, and what specific circumstances made it so deadly.

For a more uplifting take on the blizzard of 1888, you may also want to check out The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard, a historical fiction picture book aimed at readers aged 7 to 10. In this story of two sisters attending their prairie school as usual, the artist’s soft watercolors capture the sunny, calm weather that began the day and gave Midwesterners a false sense of hope. The colors turn tawny as the children huddle against the storm in their sod-brick schoolhouse while the roof blows off the building, and their teacher, Miss Freeman, bravely leads the children through the storm to safety.

The picture book’s afterword notes that Sarah and Annie were not real children, but that Minnie Freeman was indeed a real teacher who saved the pupils of her Nebraska school by tying rope around their waists and leading them to her nearby home. Apparently, as news of the nineteen-year-old’s heroism and ingenuity spread, a song was written in her honor and she received over 80 marriage proposals from her admirers.
The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard is available from Lerner in print and as an eBook PDF, while The Children’s Blizzard of 1888: A Cause-and-Effect Investigation can be read in print or digital on your preferred electronic device.