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Top Books by State Series: South Dakota

By Adrienne Rivera. May 26, 2024. 9:08 AM.

Topics: Children's Books, Awarded Books, Newbery Award

South Dakota is a midwestern state also located on the Great Plains. While a large state, it is one of the least populous in the country. The agricultural state is home to nine reservations of the Lakota and Dakota Sioux tribes, for which the state is named. The landscape of South Dakota contains plains, buttes, and the Black Hills mountain range. Join us today as we continue our literary road trip by taking a closer look at two books that display some of the rural and agricultural places in South Dakota, both historically and in present day, in our Top Books by State Series:

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

silver lakeLaura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House series, a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in the Midwest, is one of the most beloved in all of American children’s literature. The fifth book in the series, Newbery Medal-winning By the Shores of Silver Lake, was published in 1939.

The book focuses on the Ingalls’ new life in the Dakota Territory after they leave Plum Creek, which is the setting for the previous novel. The novel marks a shift from Laura's childhood to adolescence and is also one of the family's first experiences of living in a town instead of in a more remote location.

“You are right, Laura; human hands didn't make that place,” Pa said. “But your fairies were big, ugly brutes, with horns on their heads and humps on their backs. That place is an old buffalo wallow. You know buffaloes are wild cattle. They paw up the ground and wallow in the dust, just as cattle do.

"For ages, the buffalo herds had these wallowing places. They pawed up the ground, and the wind blew the dust away. Then another herd came along and pawed up more dust in the same place. They went always to the same places, and—"

“Why did they, Pa?” Laura asked.

"I don't know," Pa said. "Maybe because the ground was mellowed there. Now, the buffalo are gone, and grass grows over their wallows. Grass and violets.”


They did not gather thickly anymore on Silver Lake. Only a few very tired flocks settled late after sunset in the sloughs and rose to the sky again before the sun rose. Wild birds did not like the town's entire people, and neither did Laura. She thought, “I would rather be out on the prairie with the grass, birds, and Pa’s fiddle. Yes, even with wolves! I would rather be anywhere than in this muddy, cluttered, noisy town, crowded by strange people

High Plains Tango by Robert James Waller


Robert James Waller’s 2005 novel High Plains Tango follows main character Carlisle as he builds a home in rural Salamander, South Dakota and grapples with the construction of a highway as it threatens the town’s way of life as well as the habitat of a local species of endangered hawk. The following passages show life for Carlisle and the townsfolk in their struggling South Dakota town:

As he put his Red Wing lace-ups on the sidewalk outside Leroy's, Carlisle’s first observation was that an elderly man was watching him from a second-floor window across the street, above what used to be Lester's TV & Appliance. His second was that Salamander and the sun closed up shop simultaneously.

Carlisle had seen hundreds of small towns in the past few months, and Salamander was not unique. Other places, lots of them, looked the same with their empty storefronts, boarded-up schools, and few young people on the streets—a general sense of malaise, of lifelessness, of things gone wrong.

It was a pretty sunset, though, his first evening in Salamander. The kind you get out in the big spaces, with the western sky turning pink magenta laid up against a dome of azure to the north.


Carlisle wondered if it was still possible for him to live alongside civilization and yet be somewhat apart from it. Find a slice of quiet in the layers of noise, conduct a rain into the noise now and then for some work, take the gold and run like hell back to the quiet place… The flight was no good. You couldn't escape it, whatever 'it' was.


Adrienne Rivera
Adrienne Rivera received her MFA in fiction from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She currently lives in southern Indiana.


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