If you’re a fellow Kansan who likes to read, there are a large number of books set in Kansas. You can google and find lists like this one from Goodreads but we thought we’d offer our own. So here are some great reads set on the Plains of Kansas. Some are famous and well known, other less so.
A true classic of children’s literature still worthy of a read by adults, Wilder’s Little House tells the story of her family’s time pioneering the Plains of Southeastern Kansas. The books were so popular, Michael Landon turned them into a popular TV series in the 1970s and 80s using the title of this book. While the family’s time in Kansas is mostly covered in this book, all 9 of the books are excellent reads. Early examples of Chapter Books that tell the true story of life as pioneers in 19th Century America. The tales are heartwarming and educational all at the same time. True classics.
2. Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Explore the state’s Wild West past in this book where the author explores the life and psyche of the gunslinging, tubercular dentist Doc Holliday from the perspective of his “single season of something like happiness” in Dodge City, Kansas. From his tender but unsatisfactory relationship with Kate Harony to his friendship with the fanatically honest Wyatt Earp, the book is fresh and surprisingly luminous. It’s a novelization rather than nonfiction but still rich in historical detail.
3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
An all time classic hailed as one of the greatest nonfiction books of all time, this classic reads like a novel as it tells the tale of two newly released criminals who kill and terrorize a farm family in small town, Western Kansas. Having spent my early years in neighboring Garden City, where many of the events take place, I can tell you that I met many people who knew the Cutter family. It remains powerful in its impact on local mindset and history. It’s frightening, surprising, shocking, and utterly compelling all at the same time. While numerous movies, tv miniseries and books have been written about this story and Capote’s time researching in Kansas, the original remains a must read whether you live in Kansas or not, but one every Kansan should read at least once.
4. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The tale of Dorothy, Toto and Oz is a well known classic as much for the 1930s Hollywood film, The Wizard Of Oz, as for the book itself. While only a portion of the story is set in Kansas, it’s a tale which all Kansans must come to reckon with, as they’ll spend their lives asked silly questions like “Can you see color or just black and white?” “Do you have a dog name Toto?” and so on. The book is written for children, like Wilder’s books, but tells the immensely imaginative and moving tale of a girl who longs for a more exciting life, only to discover she had just the life she wanted right there at home.
5. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
The basis of 3 award-winning Hallmark Hall Of Fame TV movies starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken, this children’s novel, set in late 19th century Kansas is the tale of Jacob Witting, a widowed farmer who is still saddened by the death of his wife several years earlier, while giving birth to their son Caleb. Finding that the task of taking care of his farm and two children, Anna and Caleb, is too difficult to handle alone he puts an ad in the newspaper for a mail-order bride. Sarah, from Maine, answers his ad and travels out to become his wife. Homesick and in over her head, Sarah soon throws herself into finding enjoyment where we can, winning the hearts of her new family and readers alike. A moving love story about family, grief, life, survival and the meaning of it all, the book is a modern day classic worthy of adults as well.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s science fiction, fantasy and humor books, short stories and articles. A frequent contributor to blogs like SFSignal, Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and To Be Read, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat under the hashtag #sffwrtcht on Twitter and blogs about writing and creativity on his own blog at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net/blog. Connect With Bryan On Google+