84 pages 2 hours read

Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Linda Sue Park’s Prairie Lotus is a historical middle grade novel that takes place in 1880 in the United States’ Dakota Territory. Fourteen-year-old Hanna Edmunds arrives in the town of LaForge, where her widowed white father wants to establish a dress goods shop. Hanna’s mother was an immigrant from China who died when Hanna was 11. Hanna tries to attend school and establish herself as a dressmaker in LaForge but faces racism and intolerance because she is a girl with a diverse racial background. Prairie Lotus was published in 2020. The novel is a 2021 Children’s Literature Award Honor selection of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association and a 2021 Notable Children’s Book award from the Association for Library Service to Children.

This guide refers to the 2020 edition by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company. Prairie Lotus includes racial language used during the 19th century in reference to members of the Asian community. Some of these terms may be quoted in the guide, but they do not imply that SuperSummary endorses the use of this language.

Plot Summary

Fourteen-year-old Hanna Edmunds is a girl with a diverse racial background living in 1880 in the United States. Hanna’s mother, an immigrant from China raised by American missionaries, died when Hanna was 11. Hanna and her white father left their home and dress goods shop in Los Angeles soon after Mama’s death and sought to settle in a new place for three years. Papa thinks LaForge, a town in Dakota Territory, will be the right town in which to settle, largely because he knows that Mr. Philip Harris, the LaForge justice of the peace, is a fair-minded and good man. Even so, Hanna knows to keep her bonnet on to shield her face from view until Papa makes some acquaintances who will hopefully help along others’ acceptance of them as newcomers.

Papa plans to open a new dress goods shop that sells sewing and dressmaking supplies but no constructed clothing. Hanna, however, dreams of designing and making dresses. After moving to LaForge, Hanna’s thoughts quickly turn to school; she is close to graduating after years of tutoring and independent learning. She asks Papa about the possibility of attending school. Papa grows surly and questions why school is necessary, but Hanna persists until Papa agrees to ask Mr. Harris about Hanna attending. Mr. Harris meets Hanna, then permits her to begin school. Hanna starts school, keeping her bonnet on the first day in the hopes that she will make at least one friend before revealing her appearance. On the second day, when she hears the other girls speculating about her, Hanna takes down her bonnet. Miss Walters, the teacher, attempts to ease the students’ curiosity about Hanna by pointing out that every student in the school comes from another place because LaForge is a new town. Hanna is not “from” there, but neither is anyone else. Parent complaints, however, force Mr. Harris to hold a public school board meeting. Mr. Harris speaks highly of Papa, and Miss Walters praises Hanna’s performance and behavior, but the parents are not appeased and begin to pull their children from the school. Some students harass and insult Hanna and destroy her schoolwork. One girl, Dolly Swenson, wants to walk with Hanna at lunchtime that week, but is pulled home by her rude father, who makes it clear that his daughter’s choice to accompany Hanna is disgraceful behavior. He spits on the ground near Hanna as he drives away with Dolly.

Soon no students attend the school except for Hanna, Bess Harris, and Bess’s younger sister Sadie. Miss Walters diligently teaches the three girls but soon offers a compromise so that students will return in the next school session: Bess and Hanna can graduate early if they pass their exams. Both girls do, and Hanna turns her attention to Papa’s dress goods shop as it is about to open to the public.

Papa wants Hanna to help organize the shop. He also wants her to plan a party for the grand opening so that patrons will want to come in, and he allows her to choose prizes for the raffle he plans to hold. He does not, however, want Hanna to sew or make dresses for the shop the way she desires. After Hanna tries persistently to talk her father into allowing her to sew, Papa finally explains that in Los Angeles, people thought he married Mama not out of love but for her servitude in his dress shop. He wants to avoid anyone making assumptions about Hanna’s freedoms. Hanna convinces Papa that she, like Mama, genuinely wants to work as a seamstress because she loves the work and creativity of piecing dresses together. She makes Papa a deal: She will complete the construction of a dress by the shop’s opening, and if the example dress garners new dress orders, he will allow her to work as a dressmaker. He agrees, and even allows Hanna to hire Bess Harris to help with the sewing of the model dress. Hanna is thrilled. The first two days of Bess’s employment go well as they chat, work together, and become friends.

Hanna plans to use lard cans as planters for prairie roses to decorate the new shop for the opening. When Hanna goes to the hotel to get the cans, she runs into Mr. Swenson as he leaves the saloon. Mr. Swenson and his companion Connors accost Hanna, harassing her and insinuating that they will hurt her. Hanna gets away, but townspeople see the end of the conflict and assume Hanna is to blame. Soon some townspeople tell Papa they will no longer attend the shop’s opening. Hanna seeks Miss Walters’s advice on how to best defend herself, but Miss Walters tells Hanna to let the matter go. On Monday morning, the day before the dress shop’s opening party, Bess arrives to tell Hanna she can no longer work for her. Fearful that the unfair accusations against her will soon alienate the whole town and cause the failure of the dress shop, Hanna asks Bess to visit the women of LaForge as her representative and explain that Hanna was the victim, not the instigator. Bess is hesitant but agrees to go to Miss Walters for advice in speaking so forthrightly.

Hanna hears nothing from Bess the rest of the day and tries to busy herself by completing the dress and straightening the workshop. She rises in the night to add a final touch to the dress: a stitched lotus flower like Mama always added to her work. Hanna cannot sleep that night due to worry about the shop and the potential need to leave LaForge and try again elsewhere.

The next morning, Hanna is shocked to see a long line of customers waiting for the shop’s doors to open. The party and raffle are great successes, and the shop receives seven orders for new dresses. Bess tells Hanna that she and Miss Walters visited many women the day before, and while most needed little convincing to believe Hanna’s innocence, others resisted and faulted Hanna. Hanna is grateful for the good day and for Bess’s friendship; she also realizes that some in the town will always remain intolerant of her no matter how hard she works or how skilled she becomes. She is happy to work as a dressmaker in the store, and happier still when Papa surprises her with a full-length mirror for customers to use when trying on dresses. Hanna thinks that when she sees her reflection in the mirror, she resembles Mama.

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