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The Year We Were Famous Hardcover – April 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Note from the Author

Dear Amazon Readers:

My first memory of Great-Aunt Clara was from 1950: I sat on the edge of her bed beside her, looking down as she struggled to draw stockings over gnarled and vein-roped feet. I didn’t know it then, but fifty-four years earlier, those feet had trodden 4,000 miles in a heroic trek with her mother from Spokane, Washington, to New York City.

Clara and her mother, Helga Estby, had taken hundreds of pages of notes along the way, intending to write a book when they returned. But when they reached their farm, they discovered that two of Clara’s siblings had died of diphtheria before they could get home. The family vowed never to mention the ill-fated trip again. The notes were burned.

I couldn’t shake the injustice I felt. Clara and Helga had done what no women had dared to do before, and instead of being treated as heroines, they were made to feel ashamed for having done something as unladylike as tromping across the country. Snippets of their adventures from two surviving newspaper articles kept nudging me on. Escaping drowning in a flash flood by hanging on to shrubs, demonstrating their curling iron to the Native Americans they camped with, shooting an attacker, visiting President-Elect McKinley in his home—each of those incidents deserved the attention of a storyteller.

Some people are natural-born writers and storytellers. I knew I wasn’t one of them, but I still ached to be the one to tell their story. I quit my job as a librarian so that I could take classes, conduct research, and write. If there was anything I inherited from my ancestors, it was persistence. I kept learning and rewriting, submitting to agents and publishers, accepting rejections as a sign that I had to learn more and try again. I felt that Great-Aunt Clara wanted me to tell her story, and I would not let her down.

After fifteen years and twenty-nine rejections, I have finally given Great-Aunt Clara and Great-Grandmother Helga voices of the forward-thinking women they were, in The Year We Were Famous.

--Carole Estby Dagg


"Pulse-pounding encounters--outlaws! rattlers! flash floods!--will leave readers invigorated and inspired" - Horn Book

"Truth can be stranger than fiction in this outsized adventure that encompasses women's suffrage, mother-daughter relationships, economic catastrophe, the presidential race that put McKinley in the White House, and 8 million steps over four thousand miles...this is a page-turner." - Voya
"Fully realized characters and vivid descriptions of the natural world" - School Library Journal

Winner of the SCBWI Sue Alexander Award for Most Promising Manuscript

"The journey in itself is amazing, but Dagg's tender portrayal of a mother and daughter who learn to appreciate and forgive each other makes it unforgettable."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Readers will enjoy the feminist adventures."—Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 950L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Clarion Books; 1 edition (April 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618999833
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618999835
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but when my father came home after WWII, we moved to Seattle. By the time I was sixteen, I had attended a dozen schools in Washington and Idaho. I went on to nine years of college in Washington and British Columbia, earning degrees in sociology, library science, and accounting.

Although I spend most of my time writing and reading, I've had real-life adventures too. I have tip-toed through King Tut's tomb, sand-boarded the dunes of western Australia, ridden a camel among the Great Pyramids, paddled with Manta rays in Moorea, and smelled the penguins in the Falkland Islands.

I am married with two children, three grandsons, and a bossy cat that supervises my work in Everett, Washington, and a converted woodshed on San Juan Island. My next book, Sweet Home Alaska, comes out from the Nancy Paulsen imprint of Penguin on February 2, 2016.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Tanenbaum VINE VOICE on April 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Debut novelist Carole Estby Dagg was inspired by her own family history to write the delightful new young adult historical novel, The Year We Were Famous. Based on the true story of the author's great-aunt and great-grandmother, this adventure-filled novel set at the time of the suffragist movement tells the tale of 17-year old Clara Estby and her mother, Helga, who decide to walk clear across the United States from the small Norwegian-American farming community of Mica Creek, Washington to New York City--some 4,000 miles--to save their family farm from foreclosure. Helga, a dedicated suffragist, also wanted to prove that women deserved the vote, because a woman was resourceful enough to make it across the country on her own, without a man's help. All this, in an era when most women never went more than a few miles from their home.

The story, told in the first person by Clara, opens with Clara, the eldest of eight children, having returned from high school in Spokane to her family's farm in Mica Creek. While brainstorming about ways to raise money to save their farm, her mother comes up with her idea of walking across the country, and begins seeking sponsors. At her pa's suggestion, Clara agrees to go along on an adventure that she can't begin to imagine: "This would be my year abroad, my year to turn the old Clara into someone bold, someone with newfound talents, strengths, and purpose in life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sylviastel VINE VOICE on March 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I already read Jane Kirkpatrick's historical novel, "A Daughter's Walk, so I had some knowledge about Clara and Helga Estby's journey from Spokane, Washington to New York City in 1896 to earn $10,000 to save their family farm and prove that women can endure as much as men in society. Remember, women's right to vote didn't happen until 1920.

Olga Estby is a Norwegian-American mother and wife who lives on a farm with her husband and children. Her plan to travel with her oldest daughter, Clara, is sponsored by a New York City publisher. The author of this book is the great-granddaughter and great niece of Olga and Clara.

Carol Estby has done a service in providing an accurate, descriptive and detailed account of their monumentous trek across the country on foot in 1896. I have to say that I was impressed that she was far more detailed about the journey than Kirkpatrick's book but she added more adventures and dimensions of Clara and Olga. Clara was not at keen at going at first on this journey but she became more willing partner to her mother's endeavour. I found Clara and Olga's relationship to be far more complicated than the Kirkpatrick's novel.

I would have liked some more visuals to help detail their journey across the country like a map of the United States and their trails across the continent. I would have also liked to have seen maybe copied articles from newspapers about their journey. There could have also been illustrations and maybe a photograph depicting mother and daughter.

I think the author should have also explained what happened to Clara's estrangement from her family and what happened. I would have liked to have read the actual accounts of the Estby family history regarding Clara's estrangement which lasted decades. But the Estby story about mother and daughter is touching and well-done here as well. I can't get enough of the Estby women.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Women's Group Fan on November 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Year We Were Famous (by Carole Estby Dagg) is an amazing and heartfelt novel about a teenage girl's walk across the United States with her mother in the 1890s--all for the sake of a bet to win the $10,000 prize that can save their farm in eastern Washington state. The story is engaging on at least three levels. First (perhaps foremost), it is a story of adventure: the fears, hardships, and deprivations along the 6-month trek from Mica Creek, WA to New York City as told from the point of view of Clara Estby, the 17-year girl. Second, it is a story of relationships: the tensions teenage girls feel with their mothers, the secrets that are revealed along the way, the beginnings of a new love, and the ties to Clara's family and the man who has already asked for her hand in marriage back home. Last, this book is history, based on the real walk by the real Clara and Helga Estby more than one hundred years ago, who happen to be the Great Aunt and Great Grandmother of the author.
Some readers may be familiar with the historical account of this trek (Bold Spirit, written by Linda Hunt), which is used in some college courses in Women's Studies departments across the US, but Dagg's novel engages the heart as a straight history cannot. Moreover, it speaks to young people of courage and hope, which is sorely needed today. My local librarian in Washington recommended it in a display of `Washington Heroes in History,' and I have since shared it with neighbors and friends, all who have thanked me (the teenage girls AND their parents--its audience is ageless). I hope very much there will be a next installment, or at least a new novel by this winner of the Sue Alexander Award for Most Promising Manuscript.
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