Cover: Hardscrabble

In 1910, after losing their farm in Iowa, the Martin family moves to Mingo, Colorado, to start anew. The US government offers 320 acres of land free to homesteaders. All they have to do is live on the land for five years and farm it. So twelve-year-old Belle Martin, along with her mother and six siblings, moves west to join her father. But while the land is free, farming is difficult and it's a hardscrabble life. Natural disasters such as storms and locusts threaten their success. And heartbreaking losses challenge their faith. Do the Martins have what it takes to not only survive but thrive in their new prairie life? Told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl, this new middle-grade novel from New York Times-bestselling author Sandra Dallas explores one family's homesteading efforts in 1900s Colorado.



  • Dewey: [Fic]
  • Hardcover (9781585363759): 264 pages, 5.5 (w) x 8 (h), © 2018, 03/15/2018
  • Paperback (9781585363766): 264 pages, 5.5 (w) x 8 (h), © 2018, 09/15/2018 NYP
  • PDF (9781534122918): 264 pages, 5.5 (w) x 8 (h), © 2018, 03/15/2018
  • Hosted ebook (9781534123083): 264 pages, 5.5 (w) x 8 (h), © 2018, 03/15/2018
  • Subject: Language Arts


  • Suggested Interest Level: Age 8 - Age 11
  • Suggested Reading Level: Grade 4
  • Lexile® Measure: 680
  • Guided Reading Level: T
  • Accelerated Reader® Quiz: Pending

BISAC Subjects


Booklist - Hardscrabble

Belle is a young eastern Colorado pioneer enthralled by her new home. Her older sister Carrie is not quite as happy—she loved their old home in green, heavily-settled Iowa. The life of dry earth farmers in the early 1900s was exceedingly tough, and the family of nine struggles. When illness claims the girls’ mother and younger sister, the future seems precarious, especially Carrie’s hope to go to college and become a teacher. Plucky Belle, though, won’t give up and a community of disparate settlers—a lonely hermit, a generous ranching family, a lively bachelorette homesteader—come together to help.

Perseverance, that eternal ethos of settler sagas, is personified in Belle, who even schemes at matchmaking. The standard plot points of many pioneer stories are touched on: plagues of locusts, blizzards, and even a solitary bad guy scared off by intrepid heroines. Dallas, a prolific author of adult westerns, and a Spur Award winner, has written a story young readers drawn to historical fiction like the Little House series will find satisfying.

School Library Journal - Hardscrabble

Hardscrabble Gr 4-6– In the early 1900s, the Martins move to Colorado, where Father plans to earn free land by farming government acreage for five years. Twelve-year-old Belle and her family endure a series of harrowing events: baby Sage survives an encounter with a rattlesnake; Belle’s sibling Becky dies, as does Mama; a blizzard threatens the entire family; and an invasion of grasshoppers must be fought off. Later lighter moments, such as Belle playing matchmaker for her widowed father, lessen the tension. The author’s careful attention to historical detail can be found in her vivid description of the Martins’s “soddy” home. A cast of believable characters with distinct personalities brings this slice of U.S. history to life; particular attention is given to how the difficulties of frontier life impact the children. The Martins neighbor Lizzie, an independent woman who homesteads alone and offers the Martins valuable support, is a strong and memorable character. VERDICT Dallas’s latest work of historical fiction (Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky; The Quilt Walk) conveys the importance of family and the value of neighbors helping one another. A fine selection where fiction about white U.S. frontier life is in demand.

Kirkus Reviews - Hardscrabble

A close-knit family endures the rough life of farming in Colorado in the early 20th century. Hail, snow, locusts, sickness, death—the list of setbacks encountered by the Martin family as they try to earn their homestead by farming the dry ground of Colorado is a long one. But they can depend on one another for love and support, and they rely on their friendly neighbors for everything from food when times are especially tight to a helping hand in a snowy emergency. And it’s not all hardship. There are fun parties, plans for college, and holiday celebrations. Told from the point of view of 12-year-old Belle, who is pleased to discover that their nearest neighbor is a woman on her own, proving that women can be independent homesteaders, the details of rural American life are rendered with care and precision in Dallas’ third novel for children. The story occasionally offers events that feel too convenient and even saccharine, as when neighbor Hans Kruger saves the children from a snowstorm and thus proves himself to be a kind and generous soul, far from the dangerous German immigrant most thought him to be. A white cast of characters populates this book set in the 1910s, with obvious parallels to the Little House series. A traditional addition to the genre of frontier living. (Historical fiction. 9-11)


Author: Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Quilt Walk and Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky. She has written ten nonfiction books and fourteen adult novels, including The Last Midwife, Prayers for Sale, The Diary of Mattie Spenser, and The Persian Pickle Club. A former Denver bureau chief for BusinessWeek magazine, she is the recipient of two National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Awards, two Western Writers of America Spur Awards, and four Women Writing the West WILLA Awards. She lives in Denver. Visit her at