Local author Carolyn Ruff explores her Swedish heritage and a big part of the history of Minneapolis in her first book Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge. Published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge guides early readers (ages 8-12) through the history of the railroad empire of James. J. Hill.
Fritz is a young boy who with his father left Sweden and his mother and two sisters for a life in Minnesota. The book opens with Fritz missing his mama, and he decides he must help his papa earn money to bring the rest of the family across the ocean. It’s summer vacation, so he has lots of time to help his Uncle Henning with the stone-cutting for the brand new Stone Arch Bridge that is being built by James. J. Hill.
With each keystone that he chisels, he learns a little bit more about history like fossils and the Romans and the Egyptians. He also learns about the culture of the Dakotah and Ojibwe tribes of Minnesota. Not only that, but near the end of the book, he learns about the history of African-Americans in Minnesota and Minnesota’s involvement in the Civil War. He also learns a little bit about the Railroad tycoon James J. Hill and the Stone Arch Bridge itself.
The book is very factual and full of information. It celebrates some of the unique cultures that make up Minnesota: Swedish, Native American, and African-Americans. After the story concludes, Carolyn Ruff includes 10 pages (give or take) of family history and her journey of beginning her book. Her ancestors –like all the good Swedes did (including Fritz from Keystones)–settled in the River Flats of Minneapolis, and eventually Carolyn’s grandpa founded the Pearson Candy Company. Throughout these pages, actual photographs are printed for the reader to appreciate.
Following her family’s history, Carolyn includes a glossary of terms and an appendix of historical figures included in Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge.
The one downfall of the book was it’s illustrations. Though sparsely scattered throughout the book, most of the illustrations were disappointing. They were boring and some were poorly drawn. Fritz, himself, was super cute, but most of the other characters looked weird. Instead of enhancing the story, the pictures were distracting.
I do recommend this book for children who are 8-12 or advanced readers like my 1st grader. It moves along at a good pace, and is a fantastic teaching took. This book is not a book that encourages critical thinking, but it is an excellent picture of our state’s history.
If that was her goal, Carolyn Ruff hit the target! You can pick up a copy of Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge at the Minnesota Historical Society Press website, Wild Rumpus, Red Balloon Bookshop, The Bookcase, and the Minnesota Historical Society Sites gift shops.
Thank you to Minnesota Historical Society Press for providing a copy of Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge for review. All opinions are 100% mine!