Oscar’s Gift on Sale through February

From now through the end of February, in honor of Black History Month, the paperback version of Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is $4.09 at Amazon (or get the Kindle ebook for $2.99).

“Oscar’s Gift is a fine and much recommended pick for community library youth fiction collections.” ~ Midwest Book Review

“Lisa Rivero, a native of the Rosebud country, expertly weaves fact with fiction in Oscar’s Gift.” ~ South Dakota Magazine

The year is 1904 on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and eleven-year-old Tomas, the son of Swedish immigrants, thinks that life is a game of chance. Now you see it. Now you don’t. His father. School. Dreams for the future. It doesn’t matter how hard he tries or how much he hopes. In the end, everything he loves can disappear with the delivery of a telegram.

Then one hot day, on a dusty street in Bonesteel, South Dakota, he sees a tall, dark, city-slicker of a man as they both are trying their luck in a land lottery. Tomas does not know that he has just met the man who will one day write novels about his homesteading life on the Great Plains and be known as America’s first African-American feature film maker. Oscar will also become his friend and mentor.

Could it be that Tomas’s luck is changing?

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Can you match these first lines to their book titles?

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 26

Books Published in the Early 1900s

“The lid came off with a loud creak and a small cloud of dust and packing straw. Inside were books. More books than I had ever seen in one place. More books than I had seen even in a school.” ~ Oscar’s Gift

What kinds of books were published in the first years of the 20th century? See if you can match these first lines from books published from 1900 through 1905 with the correct title and author (then click on the book jackets to learn the answers and to read the works online):


  • The Call of the Wild
  • Five Children and It
  • The Little Princess
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit
  • The Wonderful World of Oz


  • Beatrix Potter
  • Edith Nesbit
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Jack London
  • L. Frank Baum

First Lines

A. Once on a dark winter’s day, when the yellow fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares. She sat with her feet tucked under her, and leaned against her father, who held her in his arm, as she stared out of the window at the passing people with a queer old-fashioned thoughtfulness in her big eyes. She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look on her small face. It would have been an old look for a child of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven.

B. Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost.

C. Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were–Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree. ‘Now my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’

D. The house was three miles from the station, but before the dusty hired fly had rattled along for five minutes the children began to put their heads out of the carriage window and to say, ‘Aren’t we nearly there?’  And every time they passed a house, which was not very often, they all said, ‘Oh, is THIS it?’  But it never was, till they reached the very top of the hill, just past the chalk-quarry and before you come to the gravel-pit.  And then there was a white house with a green garden and an orchard beyond, and mother said, ‘Here we are!’

E. Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar–except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by a trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.







Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

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One-Room Country Schools

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 24

Life and Learning in a One-Room Country School

“We continued walking. Winona looked straight ahead, her face as still as stone. Chumani glanced nervously between me and Winona. When we rounded a hill and saw the school house, both girls stopped.” Oscar’s Gift

First School in Tripp County, South Dakota. Photo: Library of Congress, Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.
First School in Tripp County, South Dakota, ca 1900-1910. Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo
Sod School, Winner, South Dakota. Photo: Library of Congress, Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.
Sod School, ca. 1910s, Winner, South Dakota. Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

The above photos give an idea of what school houses looked like in rural South Dakota in the first decades of the 20th century.

What would have Chumani and Winona learned in school?

“Children in a country school learned independently. They progressed at their own pace. Most lessons were memorized. Students knew what to expect in the next grade because they had heard older pupils recite lessons the previous year.10 The curriculum included reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, grammar, orthography or spelling, and hygiene. During the day, pupils were called to the teacher’s desk to read or recite. When not working with the teacher, students did arithmetic problems on their slates, diagrammed sentences, drew maps, and memorized lessons. Many students learned to read using McGuffey’s Readers, compiled in 1830 by Presbyterian minister William McGuffey of Ohio. The books began with simple alphabet work and stories and advanced to excerpts from Shakespeare, the Bible, and English and American poets. The readers also included biographical sketches and excerpts from speeches.” ~ South Dakota State Historical Society

The following resources offer several ideas for how children (and adults) today can learn about what life and learning were like in one-room schools:

Photos: Library of Congress, Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

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Milkweed and Spiderweb Cures

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 23

Milkweed and Spiderweb Cures

“Mama used her fingers to form some of the spider webs into a soft bandage. She placed this web bandage on the milkweed sap. She used another clean cloth to wrap around Oscar’s forehead again.” ~ Oscar’s Gift

Homesteaders like Tomas’s family often had to rely on home and folk remedies to attempt to heal injuries and illness. The following are just a few of such “remedies to stop the flow of blood from cuts and sores, from a nail in the foot, and from a nosebleed,” from A Treasury of Nebraska Folklore (compiled by Roger L. Welsh, University of Nebraska Press, 1966):

  • Stop bleeding by applying spiderwebs to the wound.
  • Mix brown sugar and whiskey, and put the solution on the bleeding surface to stop its bleeding.
  • Apply flour to a cut to cure bleeding.
  • Use milkweed lotion (the sweet juice of milkweed) on cuts and sores to heal them.
  • Put a cut in the mud to heal it.
  • Tie a chew of tobacco to the wound. This was used on a citizen of Lincoln when he cut his foot badly with a garden hoe. The wound healed in a short time.

While we wouldn’t want to use many of these remedies as a first resort today—or trust a foot gashed by a hoe to a wad of chewed tobacco—they are not all without merit. The chemical properties of spider webs, for example, are being studied more closely by scientists for potential medical applications, and the waxes and fatty acids in milkweed may make the favorite plant of monarch butterflies a good candidate for use in sunscreens.

Photo: Frozen cobwebs on a lock gate (Dr Neil Clifton) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

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Ragged, Jagged Jack and the Problem of Stereotypes

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 22

Ragged, Jagged Jack and the Problem of Stereotypes

“Oscar did not dance with the adults. He entertained the children, who were in the corner of the barn opposite the fiddlers. He sang a song called ‘Any Rags?’ and danced while he sang. ‘Did you ever hear the story of Ragged, Jagged Jack?’ he sang. ‘Here he comes down the street with a pack on his back.'” ~ Oscar’s Gift

The scene at the barn dance in Oscar’s Gift where Oscar sings “Any Rags” is drawn from Micheaux’s life. Biographer Patrick McGilligan recounts that the homesteader and future filmmaker enjoyed attending local barn dances and would amuse the children with his rendition of the song, a schottische (a partnered country dance), recorded by baritone Arthur Collins in 1903. Collins helped to popularize what are known as “coon songs,” a legacy of blackface minstrel shows. The album cover for “Any Rags” shows a caricature drawing of a Black peddler, and the lyrics, while not as offensive as other examples from the time period, do rely upon stereotypes and exaggerated dialect.

I debated whether to include the scene in the story. In the end, I decided that the personal, human dimension it added to Oscar Micheaux’s character was valuable, and parents and teachers can, if they choose, use the song as a way to discuss racial stereotypes and the lingering, pernicious effects of music and images made popular more than a century ago.

“Whether it’s in the perceptions of black people who drive fancy cars—Miles Davis complained about being pulled over every five minutes for driving a Maserati—or whether it’s in the hardly updated version of Jim Crow and something like the welfare mother. I think there are still the lenses white people put on when they look at black Americans, and it’s sad but it’s kind of desperately indicative of the way in which this country still hasn’t surmounted the kinds of feelings that gave rise to minstrelsy in the first place.” ~ Social Historian Eric Lott

Here are some resources to consider:


Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

New Oscar Cover