Happy Birthday, Kirsten!

Written by Janet Beeler Shaw; illustrated by Renee Graef

Published in 1987


It's now May, but still 1854. Kirsten will be turning ten (again?) on June 8--the same birthday as one of my nephews! Late spring also brings the threat of tornadoes, the excitement of a barn raising, and a new baby for Kirsten's family. Among all the activity, Kirsten, Anna, and Lisbeth find time here and there to learn to sew quilt squares with the girls at school. Kirsten suggests maybe they should make a quilt for Miss Winston to remember them all by, just like the quilt Miss Winston brought with her from her home in Maine.

While they sew, some of the girls talk about the women and babies they've known who died in childbirth or shortly after. Kirsten starts to worry about her mother, especially when she has to rush to find her father and aunt when the labor starts earlier than anticipated. But her worries are soon assuaged: her new baby sister is tiny but healthy, and her mother made it through labor and delivery fine.

Kirsten works hard helping her mother out after the birth. When her birthday comes two weeks later, her mother is strong enough to take over her own chores again, and has Kirsten invite her friends over from school so Kirsten can have a much-deserved day off. Her friends surprise her with a gift of the quilt they've worked on while she was busy helping her mother. That night at a barn-raising dance, Kirsten finds that one of the newborn kittens has been abandoned, and takes it back to the house to care for it. That night, while she's up feeding the kitten some milk and her mother is up with the new baby, the share a nice mother-daughter bonding time. Kirsten decides to keep working on the quilt square she never finished, and make some more to eventually sew a quilt for her sister.

Looking Back

This historical segment is about how dangerous it could be for infants and young children in pioneer days. It also mentions how children were expected to do a lot of the work around the house, and considered adults at a younger age than they usually are today, around 16. Once grown, their options were limited, especially for women and the poor. Women would typically either marry or stay with their parents, and men generally did whatever their fathers had, which in the case of poor families was subsistence farming.


Oh, Kirsten. On sewing diapers: "Why did a baby need so many diapers? Surely three or four would be enough." If only.

Another one dedicated to Nadina Fowler, and autographed, too. 

Trivia: Kirsten's favorite color is pink.

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