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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Prairie Thief

by Melissa Wiley

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The Prairie Thief

by Melissa Wiley

Review posted January 23, 2013.
Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), 2012. 215 pages.
Starred Review
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #10 Children's Fiction: Fantasy and Science Fiction

I read this book as one of the many nominees for the Cybils Award in Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I can safely say it was distinctly different from any other of the 151 books we considered. The book is a sweet story, and it's set on the American prairie among some of the first European settlers, who live isolated and far apart from each other. Louisa's Pa has been imprisoned for thievery, even though no one -- least of all Louisa -- thinks he's the kind of person who'd do that. But many missing objects have been found in his abandoned dugout. What other explanation is there?

When the little girl from the family who's taken Louisa in sees a little man nearby, it's not hard for the reader to guess what's going on (especially combined with the cover illustration). So though the plot may not be surprising, there is a good story here. There are some lovely moments, like when Louisa gets to ride on a pronghorn antelope to speed to her father's trial.

Yes, the ending has a rather large coincidence. But the story is so nice, it was easy to forgive, especially since the coincidence was told with humor. There are nice imaginative touches along the way, too. Reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie, but with little people, maybe it should be called Little People on the Prairie. I like the imagining how little people would deal with the New World if they decided to stowaway with the Big Folk.