Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Recommended Minnesota reads December 5, 2016

THIS TIME OF YEAR, when daylight fades too early into evening darkness, when I want nothing more than to stay indoors cozied against the Minnesota cold, I find myself gathering books. Stashing, stacking, sequestering them in my home.

And then I read, snugged into a corner of the reclining sofa that no longer reclines (unless the husband yanks on the redneck handle he’s improvised to replace the broken pull). I tuck into a fleece throw in hues that linger autumn.

Then I read. Of mystery in prose and poetry. Of fictional places. Of memories. Words wrapping stories around me. Writers writing so I can read. Of their experiences. Of their imaginations. Of their struggles and joys and moments.

Often I choose to read local, a subconscious decision tracing to my years writing book reviews for a now-defunct Minnesota magazine. But I am also drawn to Minnesota writers because of the connection I have to them. We are, or were, of this place, of these people.

In honor of Minnesota reads, I direct you to these books:




Under Minnesota Skies: John and Dorothy Hondl Family History and Farm Memories, penned by sisters Bernadette Hondl Thomasy and Colleen Hondl Gengler, is promoted as a family memoir of farm life in the 1940s-1960s that reflects on Czech and German heritage. The farm referenced in the book sits near Owatonna and has been in the Hondl family since 1881.

I can relate to much of the book’s content. The hard work and joys of farm life. Making hay. Filling silo. Tending livestock. This memoir, too, prompts long-forgotten memories of licking Gold Bond Stamps, of the South St. Paul Stockyard, of listening to WCCO 8-3-0, of driving tractor, of yearning for books.

Turning the pages of Under Minnesota Skies is like flipping the pages of a photo album detailing rural life. Except in words. Email the authors at kbthomasy at aol.com or dcgeng at frontiernet.net to purchase an autographed copy. Or buy the book at Little Professor Book Center in Owatonna or online at amazon.




Voices: Past & Present, The Talking Stick Volume 25, is an eclectic collection of writing by Minnesota authors, or those with a strong Minnesota tie. Published by the northern Minnesota Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, this anthology includes 139 poems, 26 pieces of creative nonfiction and 20 works of fiction from 118 writers. So a good sampling of Minnesota talent.

Getting published in this book is a competitive process. Two of my poems, “Confessions in a Grocery Store Parking Lot” and “Prairie Garden Memories” are among the works printed in this 25th anniversary edition. Order on amazon.




Finally, anyone interested in rural life, should read the books penned by prolific husband and wife team Gordon and Nancy Fredrickson of Lakeville. The pair offer children’s picture books in their “A Farm Country” and “If I Were a Farmer” series. They have also written American Farm Heritage and poetry volumes for adults.

The Fredricksons’ books truly are a tribute to the rural way of life. These books can be purchased on the authors’ website, via amazon or at these Minnesota locations: Secret Attic in Northfield; The Old Hotel, New Market; and Bongards Cheese Shop, Bongards.

TELL ME: What local books have you read? What local books are you purchasing as Christmas gifts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “Recommended Minnesota reads”

  1. Brenda Schroeder Says:

    An author that grew up on a farm by Morgan Minnesota, Kent Meyers. His book Witness of Combines tells his story of loosing his dad when he was 16 yr old and how his mother and siblings coped.
    He has authored several other books.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    Wow! Thanks for the list! A little bookstore opened in Austin this summer that features local books and authors.

  3. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Thanks for this list, Audrey, and congrats on being in The Talking Stick again! I’d like to make a plug for Maureen Millea Smith’s book of connected short stories, “The Enigma of Iris Murphy”. Maureen is a friend got her MFA at Hamline around the same time I did and she lives in Edina. I heard her read some selections from this book and her stories are richly crafted with tender, flawed characters. This book is a little different from what you have on your list in that, even though Maureen lives in Minnesota, the stories are set in Nebraska where Maureen grew up. The sensibilities, though, and occasional connections to Minnesota, make this a book that I think could fit on your list.

  4. Jackie Says:

    Rick LOVES to read John Sanford’s book. I took the excerpt from Wikipedia because I thought it would interest you… In 1985, during the Midwest farm crisis, he wrote a series entitled “Life on the Land: an American farm family”, which followed a typical southwest Minnesota farm family through the course of a full year. For that work, he won the annual Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing[6] and the American Society of Newspaper Editors award for Non-Deadline Feature Writing. He worked part-time at the Pioneer Press in 1989[7] and left the next year.

    Vince Flynn, grew up in Minnesota, was another of Rick’s favorite’s, sadly, he died at at age 47 from cancer.

    I have enjoyed reading Nathan Jorgenson’s “The Mulligan” & “Waiting for White Horse’s” He is a Dentist who grew up on a small farm in Minnesota. He has another book, “A crooked Number” that I have yet to read.

    • You have just mentioned three Minnesota authors whose books I really like. I was unaware of John Sanford’s “Life on the Land” series. I was busy raising babies back in the 1980s and didn’t read much. You know, no time. Thus I appreciate your tip because I would enjoy this series.

      Thanks for the tip also on Nathan Jorgenson’s new title. I’ve read the two previous and, if I remember correctly, reviewed Waiting for White Horses for Minnesota Moments magazine.

      Rick and I share similar reading interests as I am a big fan of mysteries. Even as a girl I liked The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries.

  5. estremdj Says:

    Seasons Greetings!
    Those with children are also welcome to check out my children’s picture books! I was raised in Kenyon Minnesota and all relatives live in wonderful Minnesota.

    Check for them on Halo Publishing’s website under Debbie Estrem.

  6. Sue Ready Says:

    Great list and I will add one more to your list of one of the more interesting food related books I’ve ever seen.
    Tempt Me: The Fine Art of Minnesota Cooking.
    And you don;t need to be a cook to appreciate this stunning book.

    Short review .
    Building on common knowledge of food this book displays gorgeous full-color paintings that once graced Minnesota cookbooks, food packaging, and promotional mailings beginning in the late nineteenth century. These lavish illustrations were made by talented artists, including the acclaimed N. C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell. Minnesota’s food companies, with their national and even international reach, hired fine artists to paint finished dishes, illustrate the era’s kitchens, and design lush gardens that would entice consumers to purchase products and the cookbooks that celebrated them.

    In this collection of vintage recipes, evocative illustrations, and vivid ads, Kathryn Strand Koutsky and Linda Koutsky take readers on a tour of Minnesota’s foodie ephemera of the 1880s through the 1980s: charming cartoon cooks, alluring seed catalog covers, and imaginative and decorative drawings celebrating cuisines from around the world. As the artwork and stories show, styles and approaches may change through the decades, but the goal remains the same: tempt your customers’ appetite by elevating food and cooking to fine art.

  7. –Beautiful.
    Thank you for the suggestions, Audrey.
    Have you read “The Scent of God?” by Beryl Singleton Bissel
    –she is from the North Shore & invited me to her home after Kay was murdered. xx
    PS. are you done w/ your Christmas shopping?

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