Cover image for Grasslands
Seely, Debra.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Holiday House, 2002.
Physical Description:
170 pages ; 22 cm
In the 1880s, thirteen-year-old Thomas moves west from the aristocratic Virginia home of his grandparents to a poor Kansas farm to live with a father he barely remembers and his new stepfamily.
Reading Level:
830 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.3 5.0 64605.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.4 10 Quiz: 34237 Guided reading level: W.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Thirteen-year-old Thomas Hunter has always longed to taste the freedom of life on the Western range, away from the stuffy home and watchful eyes of his well-to-do grandparents in Virginia. So when a letter arrives from his father inviting Thomas to join him and his new family on their Kansas farm,he can already see himself riding across the prairie like a real cowboy, living the true Code of the West.Yet the hardscrabble farm isn't what Thomas expected. There's hardly enough food; his new stepmother doesn't approve of his ways; and he spends all his time mucking out the barn and working the fields.Then, just as Tomas begins to grow restless, his family's herd gets swept up in a cattle stampede and he must follow a group of cowboys to reclaim it. Finally facing the prairie adventures he's dreamed of, he finds himself confronted with challenging decisions, eye-opening action, and an honor to uphold that calls for the real Code of the West. Does Thomas have what it takes to be a true Western hero?

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-8. In the late nineteenth century, 13-year-old Thomas leaves a privileged life with his grandfather, a Virginia judge, to reunite with his poor, stoic father in Kansas. But the boy's grand visions of cowboys and vast prairies are crushed by the harsh realities of midwestern farming and by his new stepmother, who thinks Thomas' desire for an education makes him a useless farmhand sure to make mistakes. Her pessimistic expectations about farm work turn out to be true, but then Thomas gets a taste of being a real cowboy, and he proves his mettle. Seeley's gentle prose invites readers to languish through the chapters. Like the landscape she describes, the story is quiet, broad, and sweeping, and her weatherworn characters embrace their lives and struggles with much fortitude and no sentimentality. Her grasp of a male point of view is firm, and her depiction of even the harshest of characters is underscored by compassionate understanding of the tenacity demanded by the barren land. She includes several sources and notes about the historical accuracy of the details. --Roger Leslie

Publisher's Weekly Review

Despite uneven storytelling, this debut novel convincingly illustrates the gaps between the romance of the West and the realities of daily life on a struggling Kansas farm in the early 1880s. At 13, the narrator, Thomas, has already journeyed twice in a covered wagon-westward, from his maternal grandparents' home in Virginia, and then back east soon after, following the death of his mother. Raised by his grandparents, Thomas fantasizes about his father, imagining him as a cowboy, "the kind of man who would not be stuck inside reading The Pilgrim's Progress while dogwoods were blooming." His father, remarried and settled with stepchildren, invites Thomas and his sister, Becky, to come live with him, and while Becky chooses to stay at her academy, Thomas eagerly agrees. Seely homes in on the rigors of the prairie-the cramped farmhouse, the roughness of Thomas's task-minded stepmother, the constant chores (at which his younger step-siblings easily outshine him) and the hunger and privation. The narrative offers harsher examples, too (a toddler loses her way in the grass and dies). While Thomas has an engaging voice, some aspects of the plotting seem teacherly, as in the introduction of characters who mostly defy stereotypes (e.g., horsewomen and black cowboys), and in the dashing of Thomas's fancies when he is finally swept up in an actual cowboy adventure. And, unfortunately, the novel's resolution, in which Thomas reaffirms his love for the land, seems abrupt. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Thomas has lived with his wealthy maternal grandparents in Virginia since his mother's death on the Kansas prairie. He has no real memory of his father, but he dreams about life out West with real buffalo, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Dick Deadeye. Now, years later, his father writes that he has remarried and wants his son to come and live with him. Thomas is disappointed and hurt by the lack of warmth in his new stepmother and her two children, and is unprepared for the unending, difficult chores. He toughens up through hard work behind a plow, danger with a rattler, the loss of his half brother, and adventures with a cattle stampede. By book's end, Thomas has matured into a young man with a new understanding of and appreciation for the beautiful but harsh prairie. With just enough whining, sibling jealousy, and confused emotions, the first-person narrative has the genuine voice of a 13-year-old boy. Mixing humor with hardship gives the story a balance that pulls readers on to the next chapter, knowing that Thomas will choose to stay with his father rather than return to Virginia. In using her great-grandfather as inspiration plus an excellent list of primary and secondary sources, the author has created a fine historical novel that will satisfy those curious about the 1880s, as well as those looking for adventure.-Carolyn Janssen, Children's Learning Center of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.