The best books on South Dakota

4 authors have picked their favorite books about South Dakota and why they recommend each book.

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The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

By Ann Weisgarber,

Book cover of The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

This powerful, unflinching book brought me closer to the homesteading experience in South Dakota than I ever thought possible. Rachel’s struggles as a Black homesteader in 1917 and her fierce devotion to her family echoed with me long after I finished the book, and it was particularly meaningful to read about the complicated racial dynamics of that place and time. Rachel is an unforgettable character, and Weisgarber’s descriptive passages are magnificent.


Who am I?

History and historical fiction are my abiding passions, and as a child of the Missouri Ozarks, I’ve always been drawn to depictions of Midwestern and rural life in particular. I have studied 19th-century utopian communities for many years and have always been fascinated by the powerful appeal of such communities, and the internal dynamics that always seem to arise within them. My novel series follows the rise and decline of one such community, using it as a microcosm for American culture in general. What might seem like a byway of American history is to me a powerful source of insight.


I wrote...

Slant of Light: A Novel of Utopian Dreams and Civil War (The Daybreak Series)

By Steve Wiegenstein,

Book cover of Slant of Light: A Novel of Utopian Dreams and Civil War (The Daybreak Series)

What is my book about?

On the brink of the Civil War, a group of settlers led by James Turner, a charming, impulsive writer, and lecturer, and Charlotte, his down-to-earth bride, create a social experiment deep in the Missouri Ozarks. Inspired by utopian dreams of building a new society, Turner is given a tract of land to found the community of Daybreak: but not everyone involved in the project is a willing partner. Charlotte, confronted with the hardships of rural life, must mature quickly to deal with the challenges of building the community while facing her husband's betrayals. As the war draws ever closer, the utopians find neutrality is not an option. Ultimately, each member of Daybreak must take a stand--both in their political and personal lives.

The Long Winter

By Laura Ingalls Wilder,

Book cover of The Long Winter

My favourite of all the Little House books - I can't tell you how many times I've read it. The Ingalls family have to move off their isolated homestead and into town to survive a freezing, seven-month winter. Their resourcefulness is hugely inspiring. Depleted of supplies, they make lamps out of buttons, string, and axle grease; they spend hours every day grinding wheat in a little coffee mill in order to have enough flour to make a small loaf of bread; and they get blisters twisting hay into sticks for the fire. The danger from sudden blizzards makes the short walk home from school potentially fatal. A perilous expedition for desperately needed supplies is too scary for most. And a hazardous, unnecessary journey undertaken by Laura, reveals just how much she misses her family.


Who am I?

I love writing and illustrating all sorts of children's stories. The only thing my stories have in common is that none of their heroes eat meat, drink milk, or take part in the egg and spoon race. I write the kind of stories I want to read. I don't want to read about sex or violence. And I don't want to read foul language. I want something meaningful, something with a concluding note of optimism. Consequently, well-written children's stories often appeal to me. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that these are not just children's stories, they're good stories that anyone can enjoy.


I wrote...

Little Chicken Classic - Luke Walker: animal stick up for-er

By Violet Plum, Miranda Lemon (translator),

Book cover of Little Chicken Classic - Luke Walker: animal stick up for-er

What is my book about?

Eight-year-old Luke Walker is confident, outspoken, and defiant. He's a maverick, as brave as Robin Hood, and as logical as Commander Tuvok. Determined to do the right thing, Luke has to disobey, vandalise, lie, steal and sabotage. He thinks aloud, he acts aloud, and he doesn't suffer fools. He's a hero. He's a role model. He's a self-declared outlaw who will stop at nothing to save and protect animals, even if it means he gets into trouble. And it usually does.  

This Little Chicken Classic contains all sixteen funny and exciting chapters from the first two Luke Walker books.

A Dinosaur Named Ruth

By Julia Lyon, Alexandra Bye (illustrator),

Book cover of A Dinosaur Named Ruth: How Ruth Mason Discovered Fossils in Her Own Backyard

The lyrical and kid-friendly text in this book seamlessly blends information about the natural world in how it looked millions of years ago to a young girl’s journey in deciphering clues about prehistoric life that she found in her own backyard. By showing how Ruth Mason stuck to her desire for unravelling the mystery of the fossilized bones found on her ranch—even though she wasn’t a trained scientist—is a perfect launching pad to instill confidence in kids about their own observational abilities for things that interest them. Another book about perseverance and holding fast to one’s beliefs, A Dinosaur Named Ruth is a winner! 


Who am I?

Long before becoming an author and awarded science teacher, I was a child who explored the unpaved colonial roads in rural New Hampshire and brought home bucket loads of tadpoles, frogs, and turtles from nearby wetlands. I knew the rock walls that lined those roads had been placed by others who’d worked the land long before. My curiosity extended to wondering what the area had been like before humans started changing things. In retrospect, perhaps I wrote Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! in part for that backwoods girl full of questions about the world around her. Equally so, it’s for every curious child—even those who aren’t sure about dipping their toes into the mud just yet. Enjoy!


I wrote...

Chicken Frank, Dinosaur!

By S.K. Wenger, Jojo Ensslin (illustrator),

Book cover of Chicken Frank, Dinosaur!

What is my book about?

In this quirky tale with a STEM foundation, Chicken Frank wants to convince his doubting barnyard friends that he is a dinosaur. But no one believes him. When the results of a DNA test inspire Frank to hold a reunion with a toothy distant relative, will he become a tasty chicken nugget?

Showing friendship and family can be found in unexpected places, Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! will appeal to dinosaur and animal lovers everywhere. It offers a perfect blend of humor and information in its exploration of evolution, extinction, and scientific debate.

Nearly Departed in Deadwood

By Ann Charles, C.S. Kunkle (illustrator),

Book cover of Nearly Departed in Deadwood

Ann Charles is someone I want to shoot tequila with, and I don’t shoot tequila. But I would with Ann. Her deadwood series had me laughing out loud. She writes characters so well that you’ll feel like you know them right down to their roots. You’ll be cheering on the good guys, hightailing it away from the scary ones, and cringing when you just know someone’s heading in the wrong direction. I’m immensely impressed that with each new book, Ann presents an original twisty mystery with a wicked sense of humour. And not only is she a talented, award-winning, and best-selling author, but she’s down-to-earth, and also organizes an annual fan party for her readers. I’m one of those fans and eagerly await her next book!


Who am I?

I’ve been mesmerized by paranormal stories since grade school when I first read The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. Paranormal, supernatural, and magical books capture my imagination, probably because I’ve always wished I could fly like I can in my dreams. But since gravity is real, I make the magic happen in my writing. I especially enjoy when the magic takes place in a contemporary setting but is hidden to all but the reader and the ones who possess it. It feels like being in on a very big secret. The books I’ve recommended are a mix of secretive and outed magic. I hope you enjoy them.


I wrote...

Blood Mark: A Dark Dreams Novel

By J.P. McLean,

Book cover of Blood Mark: A Dark Dreams Novel

What is my book about?

What if your lifelong curse is the only thing keeping you alive?

Jane Walker survives the back alleys of Vancouver, marked by a chain of blood-red birthmarks that snake around her body. During her tortured nights, she is gripped by agonizing nightmares when she sees into the past. It isn’t until, one-by-one, the marks begin to disappear that she learns the deadly truth: She’s being stalked by a killer, and her marks are the only things keeping her alive.

Boarding School Seasons

By Brenda J. Child,

Book cover of Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940

Child draws strong connections between boarding schools and Native American communities and families through generations in ways that are accessible and clear-cut for every reader. Her work delves into sources that other scholars overlooked such as letters between boarding school students and families. One of the greatest takeaways from Child’s book and other related studies that I also recommend is how boarding school legacies and impacts continue into the present, affecting not only the boarding school students but also their posterity and American society at large.


Who am I?

My Diné (Navajo) family stories drew me into history including studies of Indigenous experiences in boarding schools. Two of my uncles were Navajo Code Talkers, and I loved asking them about their life stories. My uncle Albert Smith often spoke about his memories of the war. I was struck by the irony that he was sent to a boarding school as a child where the Navajo language was forbidden, and then he later relied on the language to protect his homelands. I then became interested in all my relatives' boarding school stories, including those of my father, which led me to write my first book The Earth Memory Compass about Diné school experiences. 

I wrote...

The Earth Memory Compass: Diné Landscapes and Education in the Twentieth Century

By Farina King,

Book cover of The Earth Memory Compass: Diné Landscapes and Education in the Twentieth Century

What is my book about?

The Diné, or Navajo, have their own ways of knowing and being in the world, a cultural identity linked to their homelands through ancestral memory. The Earth Memory Compass traces this tradition as it is imparted from generation to generation, and as it has been transformed, and often obscured, by modern modes of education. An autoethnography of sorts, the book follows Farina King’s search for her own Diné identity as she investigates the interconnections among Navajo students, their people, and Diné Bikéyah—or Navajo lands—across the twentieth century.

Critical to this story is how inextricably Indigenous education and experience is intertwined with American dynamics of power and history. As environmental catastrophes and struggles over resources sever the connections among peoplehood, land, and water, King's book holds out hope that the teachings, guidance, and knowledge of an earth memory compass still have the power to bring the people and the earth together.

The Red Gods Call

By Paul L. Errington,

Book cover of The Red Gods Call

This book is less about Biology and more about becoming a biologist. Errington spent his youth outside, hunting, trapping, and fishing in the still largely pristine environment of South Dakota. Although hunting later "became ritualistic" he then continued the rest of his life feeling "called" into the wild and learning about nature there, leading him to go to graduate studies, but continuing all his life to long "for the authentic." It was a romantic activity to be close to nature, and a joy to learn that there are rules of order driving the complexity of "natural relationships." He validated for me loving the wild and wanting to be part of it all, noticing and savoring it, imprinting on it, being one with it. It made getting close to the land to feel the freedom of it in the wild outdoors, as from the 1893 Rudyard Kipling poem, "The Young…


Who am I?

Biology is the study of life, and I cannot think of anything more important. It’s like being interested in what’s happening to the ball when you are playing the ball game. I was very fortunate to have grown up in close contact with nature and it led me down this path. I love discovering intricate mechanisms not by thoughts but with data. Those discoveries almost always turn out to be surprising and more than what had, or could be, imagined and assumed. 


I wrote...

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival

By Bernd Heinrich,

Book cover of Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival

What is my book about?

From flying squirrels to grizzly bears, and from torpid turtles to insects with antifreeze, the animal kingdom relies on some staggering evolutionary innovations to survive winter. Unlike their human counterparts, who must alter the environment to accommodate physical limitations, animals are adaptable to an amazing range of conditions.

Examining everything from food sources in the extremely barren winter landscape to the chemical composition that allows certain creatures to survive, Heinrich's Winter World awakens the largely undiscovered mysteries by which nature sustains herself through winter's harsh, cruel exigencies.

Winter Counts

By David Heska Wanbli Weiden,

Book cover of Winter Counts

Winter Counts is set on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Virgil Wounded Horse is the rez’s vigilante justice seeker when the feds, the tribal cops, and state cops can’t get their…together. Wounded Horse takes charge and sets things right. This is Heska Wanbli’s first novel and he too, is doing things right. Winter Counts was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, an Indie Next pick, a Best Book of 2020 by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Amazon, NPR, and ten other publications. The book was an Amazon Best Mystery and Thriller of the year, Best Noir Fiction, and Best Debut of the Year as well as a Notable Selection for Best Crime Novel by CrimeReads. A must-read and then eagerly await Heska Wanbli’s second book. 


Who am I?

As an Anishinaabe writer, my award-winning/nominated books, Murder on the Red River and Girl Gone Missing, feature Cash Blackbear; a young, Native woman, who solves crimes for the county sheriff. Oprah Magazine 2020 listed me as a Native American Author to read. I received Minnesota's 2020 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award. My script, Say Their Names, had a staged reading with Out of Hand Theater, Atlanta, 2021. Vazquez and I received the Loft’s 2017 Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship for work with incarcerated women. I have been a friend, colleague, and peer with the authors recommended. We might currently be a small crew writing but we are a mighty, award-winning crew.


I wrote...

Girl Gone Missing

By Marcie R. Rendon,

Book cover of Girl Gone Missing

What is my book about?

Bored by her freshman classes at Moorhead State College, Renee “Cash” Blackbear just wants to play pool, learn judo, chain-smoke, and be left alone. But after one of Cash’s classmates vanishes without a trace, Cash, whose dreams have revealed dangerous realities in the past, can’t stop envisioning terrified girls begging for help. Things become even more intense when an unexpected houseguest appears: a brother she didn’t even know was alive, from whom she was separated when they were taken from the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation as children and forced into foster care.

When Sheriff Wheaton, her guardian and friend, asks for Cash’s help with the case of the missing girl, she must override her apprehension about leaving her hometown in order to discover the truth about the girl’s whereabouts.

Made in the U.S.A.

By Billie Letts,

Book cover of Made in the U.S.A.

For me, personally, this book taught me how truly lucky I was while living in my truck for 5 years in the early 2000s. 15-year-old Lutie and her 12-year-old brother, Fate, are thrown into a desperate adventure after their stepmom dies. Their odyssey across America in an attempt to find their long-lost father, and the perils of being homeless in Las Vegas and avoiding the life-threatening perils of living in a car and dodging unsavory and predatory people, is a harshly realistic depiction of...well, reality.


Who am I?

What can better give expertise on the books one loves than decades of reading? I’ve always had a passion for sympathetic, strong characters, especially women. At the core of all my novels, readers will find a sympathetic and strong heroine. In Girlfriend Trouble, Lian is the catalyst that changes the lives of everyone around her for the better; or, more precisely, Lian’s compassion, wisdom, and serene nature are what change things. I’m probably too idealistic, but it’s better than being a cynic. There’s an element of this in all the books I’ve recommended, and those I’ve written. I like to think there’s more of it in the real world too.


I wrote...

Girlfriend Trouble

By Robert Shaw,

Book cover of Girlfriend Trouble

What is my book about?

Karate Kid meets Wimpy Kid in this YA coming-of-age story.

14-year-old Mikey dreams of the girl he longs to meet; she's so real he can almost reach out and touch her... if he didn't keep waking up and getting in trouble with the school bully. Then Mikey meets Lian in the real world, and she changes everything for everyone. Girlfriend Trouble is a funny, heart-warming story about tolerance, understanding, and the acceptance of the unpopular kids; it's about having self-confidence, self-respect, and respect for one’s peers, and about dealing with bullies both youthful and grown-up.

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