Eads Bridge, St. Louis, 1911

The Great Here-After at the World's Fair, St. Louis, 1904

The St. Louis Club, early 1900s

Sportsman's Park, St. Louis

Newsboy hopping a ride on a trolley, St. Louis, ca. 1910

The real Julia Catherine, early 1900s

The Year We Sailed the Sun

Go back, begs her brother Bill’s best friend, Mickey Doyle. Back to the orphanage, he means. The House of Mercy.

Go home, a stranger cries on the streets of St. Louis, Missouri, as the blizzard of 1912 rampages and the Mississippi River freezes over. Home to safety, he means, out of the storm. Ah, sure, but then into the iron grip of Sister Maclovius.

Go away, Doc Monaghan croaks when Julia Delaney, age eleven, wants only to save a life by pounding on his pawnshop door.

To Julia—named for a fiddle tune—“back” means a return to the Sin Room, where runaways are punished. “Home” means . . . nowhere now, for her home is as gone as Bill; her sister, Mary; their Irish grandmother; Mama; and Papa, the fiddler. “Away” means beyond the Eads Bridge and the racket of street gangs, but how to get there? Even Julia—girl of dreams—has never dreamed of Montana. Or of the miracle that fetches her from the Kerry Patch, spirits her west, and sets the sun a-sailing.

Winner of the PEN/​Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Working Writer Fellowship

A Junior Library Guild Selection

“A terrific novel, full of rich, early twentieth-century detail, told in a wonderful voice. It will have readers laughing one moment, wiping tears away the next, as they revel in the many richly drawn characters as well as the hard-won triumph of eleven-year-old Julia Catherine Delaney, teller of the tale. Lucky the kids who will have this read to them, for The Year We Sailed the Sun begs to be read out loud. Lucky, too, the teacher who gets to do the reading.”
--Avi, author of Crispin: The Cross of Lead

“A wonderfully descriptive novel set in early St. Louis, Missouri—you can see it, feel it, smell it—each well-crafted sentence a little gem. . . .”
--Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of Shiloh

“This exuberant book wraps its arms around you and lifts you off the ground. Thronging with vivid characters and bursting with energy, The Year We Sailed the Sun is an intimate and powerful testament to love and faith.”
--Susan Patron, author of The Higher Power of Lucky

“That there are writers like Theresa Nelson in the world fills me with both awe and joy. Julia is an unforgettable character, and her story had me gobsmacked: laughing, crying, holding my breath in suspense, pumping my fist triumphantly, and sighing with pleasure—a lot. I will be pestering everyone I know to read this book.”
--Linda Sue Park, author of A Single Shard

The Year We Sailed the Sun is a robust, boisterous novel so visual that reading it simultaneously creates a movie in your head. The plot proceeds forward with a flawless rhythm, and the ending brings with it an unqualified feeling of fulfillment. And on top of everything else, it’s a fun, highly readable story. Wonderful!”
--Cynthia Kadohata, author of Kira-Kira

Mississippi River Ice Gorge, St. Louis, early 1900s

Frozen Mississippi near Eads Bridge, early 1900s

Train tracks by the river in Julia's day

Ordering information and more:

Imagine a door....
Eleven-year-old spitfire, Julia Delaney, fights her way out of the infamous Kerry Patch in St. Louis, 1912, to find her beloved brother Bill.
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