Pros:Historical details, character development
The Bottom Line: Kirsten is determined to celebrate St. Lucia's Day, but the things she needs for the holiday are ten miles away. Can she get them in time?
My oldest daughter is five years old. She has always been a precocious reader, but I have had difficulty finding things that she wants to read. She loves Elephant and Piggie books, but they are not much of a challenge. She claims to be afraid of Junie B. Jones, and she has shown no interest in Ramona. We do have a nice collection of American Girl books that I have collected in the past couple of years. My daughter and I have also started to collect the dolls, so I thought that it would be a good time to start reading through the books.
Today, my daughter chose Kirsten’s Surprise. This is the third day in a row that she has chosen a Kirsten book. She seems quite interested in the little pioneer girl.
Kirsten’s Surprise is a Christmas story. The story begins a few weeks after the end of Kirsten Learns a Lesson. Kirsten and her family are preparing for winter. There is a lot of work that must be done before the deep snow arrives.
Kirsten longs to be able to get her family’s two trunks. This has been an issue since the first book. When Kirsten and her family got off of the riverboat on their long journey from Sweden to Minnesota, they didn’t have enough money to hire a carriage to bring their trunks to their uncle’s farm. They had to leave behind most of their worldly possessions. It is also revealed that the distance from the dock to the farm was 20 miles. This wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the first book, but it is a startling reminder of how arduous life was for Kirsten’s family.
The family arrived in Minnesota in the summer. It is almost winter, so the trunks have been waiting for almost five months. No one has had time to go and get them- farm work takes up all of Papa and Uncle Olav’s time. The trunks have made their way to a little town that is ten miles away, but going to get them would still take up an entire day.
While Kirsten’s primary reason for getting the trunks is to get her doll back, she displays a surprising amount of insight when she says that having their things back would help her remember the family they left behind in Sweden. Kirsten and her mother reflect on the fact that they will never see their Swedish relatives ever again.
As Kirsten talks with her cousins, she learns that they have never celebrated St. Lucia’s Day, a holiday that Kirsten celebrated back in Sweden. She tells her cousins that one girl from each family is selected to be the St. Lucia queen, and that girl wears a white dress with a red sash and a leafy crown with lit handles upon her head. The girls are very excited about this, and they decide to plan a secret St. Lucia’s celebration to surprise the adults and the boys. Kirsten even has a white nightgown with a red sash; the only problem is that those things are in the trunk!
Kirsten needs to find a way to get to the trunk without telling her parents what the secret plan is. She finally gets an opportunity to get the trunks with her father, but a fierce snowstorm is coming. Will they get back in time to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day?
Kirsten’s Surprise a nice story. There is just the right amount of character development and plot. We learn that Kirsten misses Sweden, and we also get to see Kirsten’s resourcefulness and determination. There is also just the right amount of danger suspense- caught in a snowstorm! Since this is the third of six Kirsten books, our heroine does not perish in the snowstorm, but it’s such a compelling scene that it’s easy to forget that!
The book is also filled with historical details. These unfold subtly in the plot, like the fact that maintaining the farm takes so much time that the trunks have sat for five months with no one to claim them. Or that Kirsten and her cousins play simple games with dolls.
The stories have begun to interest my daughter. With all the talk of Kirsten’s family back in Sweden, she asked me how we would get to Sweden. I explained that we could take an airplane, but Kirsten’s family had to take a slow boat across the ocean. My daughter commented that she didn’t want to take a boat because she didn’t want to get sick and die. (A previous book had Kirsten mentioning that six people died on the crossing). I love that my daughter is learning about history when we read these books!
I would recommend Kirsten’s Surprise. I would also recommend reading the books in order. You could probably start with any book in the series, but reading them in order provides a good sense of continuity and a better appreciation for the character development. I’ll admit that I was more excited about this Kirsten book than my daughter was, so I’m not sure which book she’ll pick tomorrow!
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