Samantha: An American Girl Holiday

Debuted as a television movie in 2004. Not rated.


The movie starts like Meet Samantha, with a confrontation between Samantha and the next-door neighbor boy, Eddie Ryland (complete with "Three times four is twelve!"). Then Eddie's family's new servants arrive, a father with three young daughters, and Nellie, the eldest, is Samantha's age. Samantha is eager to make friends, but Nellie insists she must keep her station. Like in the books, Samantha is able to convince her to meet for short times to play, chat, and teach Nellie to read. Despite their class differences, which Samantha is largely unaware of anyway, they become fast friends. Nellie also has some things to teach Samantha, about some of the harsher truths of life. Samantha doesn't really get that she's "above" the servant class, but she starts seeing that there are invisible barriers between her and Nellie in the forms of opportunities, and she doesn't like them.

Shortly after Nellie begins to grasp reading, Samantha's Uncle Gard returns from his trip to Europe. He has a lady friend, Cornelia. Samantha is concerned; Cornelia seems to take a lot of Uncle Gard's attention. And she's about to take a lot more of it. She and Uncle Gard are engaged. Cornelia asks Samantha to be a bridesmaid. She's initially reluctant, but agrees with Grandmary's approval. But the wedding just proves Samantha's worries. It's going to be when Uncle Gard was supposed to take Samantha to the exposition in St. Louis. Uncle Gard is very contrite, promising to make it up to her, and assures Samantha that no matter what happens with him and Cornelia, Samantha will always be part of his family. Cornelia also tries to endear herself to Samantha, doing things like bringing cake samples for Samantha and the O'Malley sisters for them to judge.

One night, Samantha can't sleep, and overhears Grandmary and Uncle Gard talking about whether Samantha should stay with Gard and Cornelia for a month or two after the wedding. Samantha thinks they're arguing over who gets stuck with her, and goes outside to find Nellie. The girls go to the boathouse, where Samantha keeps mementos of her parents. They fall asleep, and Nellie ends up severely reprimanded for forgetting her place. Grandmary, who hadn't realized that Samantha had turned the boathouse into a sort of shrine, talks with her about her late parents. She helps Samantha see that staying with her uncle and new aunt is a good thing.

The movie then skips ahead to summer and the wedding. Shortly before the ceremony starts, Cornelia's niece accidentally burns Cornelia's veil. Thinking quickly, Samantha rushes to the boathouse and gets her mother's veil for Cornelia to wear. She is family, after all. The wedding goes by beautifully, although Samantha does hear some gossips going on about how "poor Cornelia" has to take in her new niece. A quick chat with her uncle reassures her, at least for the meantime.

Once the honeymoon is over, Samantha joins her aunt and uncle in New York City. (Grandmary goes on a cruise with her gentleman friend Admiral Beemis, who has proposed to her twice every year for the last dozen years.) Samantha misses Nellie terribly, but the girls keep up with letters. She's a little out of place at first, but settles in to her new temporary life. She gets to sit on her aunt's suffragette meetings, and enjoy the fast-paced life of the city. Her school is holding a speech contest about what demonstrates progress in America. Samantha picks factories, and is busy practicing her speech when a letter arrives from Grandmary's housekeeper.

The letter informs Samantha that Nellie's father has died of influenza. Nellie and her sisters are at an orphanage in New York City. Uncle Gard gets the address and promises to visit the O'Malley girls the very next day. But he's not allowed to visit, since he's not looking to adopt and he's not related. Cornelia is able to get the orphanage to bend the rules a bit due to her friend's generous donations to the place. Samantha is able to very briefly see Nellie and her sisters, long enough to confirm what she and Cornelia suspected from the tour: the orphanage is no place for children. Samantha organizes a clothing drive at her school, and delivers them with some Thanksgiving food. While Cornelia again distracts the orphanage director, Samantha is able to talk with Nellie. Nellie's very worried; she might be sent out west on the orphan train soon, and be separated from her sisters forever. After Thanksgiving dinner with her aunt and uncle, Samantha goes back to the orphanage to help the O'Malley sisters escape. She hides them in the attic, but the orphanage director comes around asking questions. She's sure Samantha is behind the escape, and also wants to blame the O'Malley sisters for some missing money, which she actually embezzled (the girls saw her do it as they were escaping).

A short time later, as Christmas approaches (about when Samantha will return to live with Grandmary...what was her plan regarding Nellie and her sisters then?), Bridget falls ill. Samantha has to find Nellie, who's gone to work in a textile factory. Samantha sees first hand how deplorable the conditions are: a boy gets his hand in a machine, and the manager just yells at him that the broken part will come out his pay, and calls out that there's an opening for a job at the boy's machine once he's freed. Samantha finds Nellie and they rush back to Gard and Cornelia's. Bridget's so ill that Samantha is forced to tell her aunt and uncle everything. They agree that the girls will stay until Bridget is better, but Uncle Gard tells Samantha, as gently as he can, that the law is the law and the girls will have to go back. Samantha reveals that she still feels unwanted, so she thought she had to hide the O'Malley sisters: if Gard and Cornelia don't want their own niece, why would they care about three girls they have no relation to? Cornelia clearly cares. She talks with her benefactor friend, who fires the orphanage director. She says coldly that she and the rest of the board of directors never intended to fund a prison, and there have been several hints about "misappropriation of funds."

Samantha's school has its speech competition right after all that. She delivers an amended speech, one about the real conditions of factories, imploring the audience to push for reforms to make factories as wonderful as other parts of American life. Because she delivered a different speech than she submitted, she's disqualified from the competition, but Grandmary says that she, a much harsher judge, has been swayed. On the way home, Gard and Cornelia tell Samantha that Grandmary finally accepted Admiral Beemis's proposal. And...what would Samantha think about making her stay with them permanent? Samantha readily agrees. She also points out that Cornelia will need extra help...maybe three servants? Uncle Gard disagrees. They need three sisters for Samantha. Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny happily agree to be a family. Together, the family of six delivers a Christmas celebration to the orphanage, complete with food, decorations, and gifts.


The movie came out a hundred years after it was set. I wonder if that was on purpose at all, if it could have been released in 2003 or something but they waited.

Nellie's mother has already died in the movie, before it starts. There's a little subplot about Jenny not talking at all after her mother's death, until she enthusiastically says, "Yes, sir!" to Uncle Gard's suggestion about adopting them.

In the movie, Samantha's parents drowned in the river behind Grandmary's house, not in the lake at the summer house. It seems she was a little older when they died too; she has more memories.

I always pictured Samantha and Grandmary living in a neighborhood like the one in Disney's Lady and the Tramp, sort of in suburbia. Here the houses are sprawling estates on a river in the countryside. With the graves of Samantha's parents in the backyard. Right by the river where they drowned.

I hope the actor who plays Eddie Ryland is acting. He's good at being mean. By the way, Eddie is short for Edward.

Grandmary's less reserved than I imagined her. She giggles on several occasions.

Samantha's doll Lydia is something she's had for a long time in the movie, and she gives it to Nellie to keep safe when she goes to New York City. Nellie's able to hold on to it even at the orphanage.

If you have the opportunity to visit the Louvre, I recommend seeing the sculpture Cupid and Psyche. It's my favorite. Such a beautiful image of love.

Samantha wishes on the brightest star EVER. It's about the quarter of the size of a full moon.

Here, Agatha is Cornelia's niece, rather than one of her two younger twin sisters. She has only one sister, not three.

The IMDB page for the movie criticizes the fact that Eddie's money jar has obviously current coins in it (Samantha and Nellie dump it in the church collection plate to get back at him for his meanness). But some coins from the early 1900s and earlier are crazy expensive, and it's a TV movie. Still, the jar could have been more translucent to make the coins less obvious.

The private school uniforms that Samantha and her New York City classmates wear look like 1980s maternity dresses.

I feel weird listening to Samantha talk about how handmade things will all be replaced with machine made ones, since I'm knitting while I watch the movie.

I still say one of the best signs of progress is the advances in modern medicine: understanding germ theory, vaccination, and antibiotics.

Mrs. Frouchy's actress does a great job. She looks and acts exactly like in the books, even down to that haughty, disapproving sneer. Makes her comeuppance (which wasn't in the books) so wonderful to watch!


Samantha - AnnaSophia Robb
Grandmary - Mia Farrow
Nellie O'Malley - Kelsey Lewis
Bridget O'Malley - Hannah Endicott-Douglas
Jenny O'Malley - Olivia Ballantyne
Uncle Gard - Jordan Bridges
Aunt Cornelia - Rebecca Mader
Agatha - Shae Norris
Cornelia's sister - Janine Theriault
Cornelia's friends - Melody Johnson, Jeanette Sousa
Admiral Beemis - Bruce Gooch
Emma - Clare Stone
Lillian - Nancy E. L. Ward
Eddie Ryland - Michael Kanev
Mrs. Ryland - Deborah McCabe
Mrs. Vandergeld - Kate Trotter
Police Officer - Adrian Truss
School Principal - Karen Eyo
Miss Stevens - Shary Guthrie
Miss Frouchy - Donna Goodhand
Factory Floor Manager - Bruce McFee
Factory Lady - Jackie Brown
Factory Boy - Keir Gilchrist

Characters not specified: Kenner Ames, Stewart Arnott, Stan Coles, Michele Ferney, Angela Fusco, Alanna Glass, Ashley Green, Michelle Moffat, Mary Pitt (Jessie, Mrs. Hawkins, Gertrude, and Mr. O'Malley are in the movie, but I'm not sure who plays them)

The Cry of the Loon

Written in 2009 by Barbara Steiner, illustrated by Jean-Paul Tibbles


It's summer again, and Samantha, Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny are going to spend some of it at Grandmary's summer house in the Adirondacks. Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia are staying in New York City with the newborn son, William Samuel.

Samantha is excited to show the cabin to her new sisters and wants them to create lots of happy memories together, so she's a little worried that the caretakers' sons will get in the way. But she's soon distracted from that by the talk of Grandmary possibly selling the cabin! With her birthday coming up, Grandmary is feeling her age, mores when she slips and injures her ankle. Samantha is suspicious, thinking someone tampered with the stairs Grandmary fell on. Perhaps someone trying to convince her to sell...

There are some other accidents, like a small fire and a tree falling. And when out exploring, Samantha and her sisters happen upon a painter with what looks like a surveyor's map of Grandmary's property, drawn up into lots. Even worse, when the girls return to the cabin, Grandmary is meeting with a man to discuss a possible sale! And then the canoe Samantha and Nellie are in--which passed a safety check the day before--springs a leak and the girls narrowly avoid disaster. The painter is fortunately nearby, and he rescues them. Things calm down for a bit, enough that Samantha and Grandmary have a nice bonding moment during which Grandmary tells her about how as a young woman she had two suitors clamoring for her attentions. Samantha starts to relax and think that maybe the accidents were all just accidents. Until Grandmary's birthday, anyway. During the celebration, the painter reveals himself as the suitor Grandmary didn't choose, and then the cabin breaks out in flames. The caretakers are able to put it out, but it was pretty clearly arson.

So at first it seems like the painter might be out for revenge or something, but when Samantha and Nellie see a figure stealing away in the night, they follow. They overhear a conversation and after getting caught eavesdropping, locked in an ice shed, and finally rescued, they're able to tell the Admiral and Grandmary that the caretaker was working with a buyer to make all the little "accidents" happen, in hopes of getting Grandmary to sell. Both men are quickly caught by the painter and the Admiral. The caretaker's family, who also work at the cabin, knew nothing of the plot, so Grandmary agrees to let them stay on, in the cabin she won't be selling.

Looking Back

The Adirondacks have enjoyed a long history as a resort area. In America's youth, it was an exotic, secluded retreat area that was difficult if not impossible to reach without a guide. As time went on, it became more and more developed, until people feared the wilderness would be completely eradicated. By Samantha's time, a portion of the land bigger than the entire state of Massachusetts had been set aside as a preserve, but the people in the area still had to balance preserving the sights while allowing access for them to been seen.


This book is dedicated to Meghan Kane, "the toughest, hardest-working girl I know."

In The Stolen Sapphire, Samantha and Nellie start calling Grandmary's second husband Grand-pere, French for Grandfather. But now they're back to calling him Admiral. Grandmary calls him Archie.

Nellie is stunned at the size of their cabin, saying it's like a mansion in the woods. I remember the first time I saw my husband's grandparents "cabin" in Idaho...it's a regular house, and a big one. By contrast, my cousins have a cabin in northern Arizona, and while it has plumbing and electricity, it looks like a proper log cabin.

Nellie earns money by tutoring fellow students at her school.

Oh, Grandmary's first name is Mary. That explains her being called Grandmary rather than Grandma or something else. Too bad this book was published after my cousin's kids were born; my aunt Mary was wondering what to be called.

Samantha says that last summer she was alone at the cabin a lot, but Agnes and Agatha visited her then. Although, they weren't there the whole summer.


The Curse of Ravenscourt

Written in 2005 by Sarah Masters Buckley, illustrated by Jean-Paul Tibbles


As Gard and Cornelia have now adopted FOUR girls, they need to expand their home. Because of the construction, the family is going to live at a hotel for a couple weeks, the Ravenscourt. Gard will have to be away for the first week, travelling on business. The owner is happy to see them, as business hasn't been as brisk as he expected.. Nellie is immediately suspicious of him: he's a slumlord in her old neighborhood, and an old woman, who blamed her infant grandson's death on his shoddy apartments, cursed him. Some of the hotel employees know about the curse too, and think it's responsible for the hotel's lack of business and other happenings, ranging from faulty furnaces to the death of an employee who fell down an elevator shaft.

At first, Samantha dismisses the superstitious worries as nonsense. But the bad luck is piling up: Bridget and Jenny's school is closed due to a chicken pox outbreak and they come down with the disease, Samantha and Nellie realize they're technically on the thirteenth floor (it's labelled the fourteenth; number thirteen was skipped). And someone painted the number 13 in blood-red numbers on their floor. Nellie worries that it was something but Samantha is still looking for a logical solution. Cornelia is acting strange, too; very cautious of being around the girls, to the point that she leaves to stay with her mother. The owner's daughter, Eloise, thinks someone is set on destroying her father's reputation. She is unaware of the condition of his apartments in Nellie's old neighborhood. Eloise doesn't want to believe it, but a trip to the building proves that Nellie was telling the truth. Eloise takes the shock of the news very well, consulting Nellie for what should be done to help the tenants (Eloise is an adult). And on the way back to the hotel, Nellie and Samantha see Cornelia back at the house.

Nellie is worried that Cornelia and Gard have decided four girls are too many to care for and that the curse is responsible for this. Samantha tries to reassure her that her aunt and uncle wouldn't abandon them, and that someone at the hotel must be behind the strange occurrences. After an elevator crashes too close to when Jenny and Bridget were going to be riding in it, Samantha starts to wonder if the building really is cursed. But then she overhears people discussing how they planned several of the mishaps, and after some detective work, she and Nellie discover--along with an undercover police officer--that the hotel owner's rival has been paying one of the employees to stage little accidents ever since the elevator death. The rival will have to pay a substantial fine, which Eloise assures Nellie will go toward renovating the apartments.

There's still one mystery: why did Cornelia leave and lie about staying with her mother? It turns that she didn't know whether she'd had chicken pox and her mother couldn't remember. Chicken pox is more serious when an adult catches it...especially a pregnant woman. Gard and Cornelia are expecting a baby in the spring!

Looking Back

In Samantha's time, ghost stories were very popular. People enjoyed being scared by performances of apparitions projected on stages, and seances were common pastimes. The Looking Back section mentions the Fox sisters, the famous duo who successfully faked a connection with the spirit world.


This book is dedicated to J. J.

It's really interesting to read about all the work that servants do for Samantha's family. While it would certainly be nice to have help like that sometimes, I'd feel too awkward letting someone do everything for me.

One character mentions that Cornelia is still giving speeches about women's suffrage.

Telephone is shortened as 'phone, with the apostrophe preceding it.

This mystery was published a year before The Stolen Sapphire, but since there's no mention of a baby or pregnancy in the later book, I placed this one chronologically second.


Clue in the Castle Tower

Written in 2011 by Sarah Masters Buckley, illustrated by Sergio Giovine


Samantha and Nellie are on a trip with Grandmary and Admiral Beemis (no longer "Grand-pere") to England and France. Grandmary says it's an important part of a young woman's education. While there, they are invited to stay with a friend of the Admiral's, Sir Charles. He lives in a castle with his twelve-year-old twin nephews (their parents died a while ago, and Sir Charles recently lost his wife). Sir Charles's goddaughter, Lady Frothingham, is also staying there, and very interested in the rumors of ghosts haunting the castle. Given the recent death of the woman who was likely her godmother, I'd say that's a little insensitive, but no one else seems to mind. As an newly-hired newspaper reporter, she spends a lot of time taking pictures to preserve the history and legend of the place. It was originally the property of Sir Reginald, who fought in the 1415 Battle of Agincourt, when the outnumber English forces defeated the French on St. Crispin's Day. He died shortly after the battle from his injuries, alone in his castle, which is why his ghost is rumored to still be there almost five hundred years later.

The girls also meet Mabel, a servant girl their age. Samantha is eager to engage her, but Nellie recognizes that Mabel is trying to keep her "place" in society. There are several other servants in the house, which makes for lots of suspects when Sir Charles discovers his first edition of Milton's Paradise Lost is missing. Further investigation reveals more than a dozen rare and valuable books are gone. In the aftermath of this, Sir Charles gets fed up with his nephews' unruliness and vows to send them back the boarding school they'd just been sent home from. But the boys got sent home on purpose, causing trouble whenever they could because of the bullying they faced from their peers. Samantha and Nellie think that if the four of them can find the books, the boys might get a reprieve. Grandmary points out that whoever stole the books knew their value, for only the most rare ones were taken and they were replaced with later edition (that is, less expensive) versions.

During the course of their investigations, the four learn that a ghostly figure has been seen at night, but it's just Mabel. She climbs one of the towers clandestinely to use a telescope to see signal lights her younger sisters back home, eight miles away, set out for her. She also tells how Sir Charles's wife knew about her night walks, and had a heart-to-heart with her the night before she died. She was also writing a letter that went unfinished, and is now missing. Samantha remembers that Grandmary's writing desk has a secret compartment, and the four take the deceased woman's desk apart searching for one. Sir Charles happens upon them in the process, and is furious. Fortunately, Grandmary and the Admiral calm him down and let the children explain themselves. Grandmary eyes the desk for a moment, then expertly pops open the secret compartment. Inside is the letter!

The letter reveals that Sir Charles's late wife sold the books herself. Since falling ill, she had realized that the most important parts of life are not things but family, and sold the books to leave enough money behind for Sir Charles and their nephews to enjoy the castle (the books had been primarily hers). So the twins don't have to go back to boarding school after all, and their tutor can keep his job. Mabel will be allowed one Sunday a month to visit her family, but Samantha and Nellie have a better idea: they've each been awarded twenty-five pounds for helping solve the mystery of what happened to the books. They give their reward to Mabel. With that money, her widowed mother can pay off their debts and Mabel will be able to go back to school and fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.

Looking Back

In the early 1900s, a "Grand Tour" was a common part of a wealthy child's education. It consisted of going abroad to Europe, especially England, to study for several months. There children learned about the more class-structured societies, and got a wonderful first-hand look at Western history. By contrast, many lower-class Europeans were anxious to move to the United States, where they saw an opportunity for class advancement and the hope of better lives for their children.


This book is dedicated to George and Alison, the author's siblings.

I didn't realize that just over a hundred years ago, London was the world's biggest city.

Samantha and Nellie are now twelve years old.

It's winter in this book.

Samantha has a birth certificate despite being born in the 1800s, which shows how well-connected her family was. It wasn't until a little while after her birth that they became a priority for the government.

Grandmary has blue eyes.


The Stolen Sapphire

Written in 2006 by Sarah Masters Buckley, illustrated by Jean-Paul Tibbles


Samantha and Nellie are joining Grandmary and Admiral Beemis on a cruise to England and France. Also accompanying them is a French tutor, Mademoiselle Etienne. On board the ship, they meet a haughty girl their age named Charlotta, and the nephew of a famous archeologist, Harry, who is an intriguing young man. His uncle is returning from South America, with treasures for a museum, including the famous Blue Star sapphire, which is said to be cursed.

Predictably, the sapphire disappears one night at dinner. It seems everyone is a suspect. I am happy that the pet monkey someone had was searched right away. No one else does either, though. For a bit, it seems the only reasonable suspects are Nellie, Samantha, Charlotta, and Mademoiselle Etienne. Nellie and Samantha know each other didn't do it, and while they dislike Charlotta they can't prove she stole anything. Her parents were interested in buying it so she might have been helping them, but when Mademoiselle Etienne becomes the prime suspect, Charlotta's mother tries to buy the sapphire from her, so it's unlikely any of Charlotta's family took it. Nellie doesn't believe that Mademoiselle Etienne took it either, and Samantha agrees. Remembering how Nellie was falsely accused of stealing Mrs. Van Sicklen's black pearl necklace, the girls return to the scene of the crime to investigate. They uncover evidence that widens the pool of suspects to anyone present at the dinner. After some more digging, they conclude that Harry is the most likely suspect. But even after convincing the adults to search Harry's things, the sapphire remains missing.

The next morning, Samantha has a flash of insight: they're docking to drop off mail. She suggests searching the mail bag for packages that could contain sapphire. Sure enough, they find one addressed to Harry, containing a hollowed-out book with the sapphire inside. To reward their diligence, Admiral Beemis--who the girls now start calling Grand-pere--adjusts their itinerary a bit to include disembarking the ship in Ireland.

Looking Back

By the 1870s, steamboats were making passage across the oceans much faster and safer than in years past. In Samantha's time, a wealthy passenger could enjoy extravagant accommodations on a pleasure cruise, while poorer passengers were crammed into steerage. Many wealthy people traveled to exotic lands in search of treasures or historical artifacts. One such treasure is the Star of India sapphire, which resides in the American Museum of National History, and inspired the jewel in the story.


This book is dedicated Alexandra.

The events of this book take place a little more than two years after Meet Samantha.

Samantha brings Clara, her nutcracker doll, on the cruise, and Nellie brings Lydia. (I wonder how she was able to hang on to Lydia with her uncle selling everything for booze and through her stay at Coldrock House...)

While writing this, I impressed myself with spelling "mademoiselle" right on the first try. That quarter of French in seventh grade really paid off.

Nellie talks about returning to Ireland, so it seems that she was born there, and possibly her sisters as well.


Merry Christmas!

I have three Samantha mysteries to review before moving on to Molly in January. The mysteries will be posted on December 27, 29, and 31. But for today, a picture of me about twenty years ago, with my Felicity doll in the matching Christmas dress that my mom sewed for me:

The Christmas dresses were available to buy through American Girl, but my mom is amazing at sewing and knew she could make a dress for less money. She later sewed me a fancy prom dress that I also wore to a formal in college, and my wedding dress.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and happy Wednesday to everyone!


Nellie's Promise

Written in 2004 by Valerie Tripp, illustrated by Dan Andreasen and Susan McAliley


As Nellie is happily returning to her home with Gard and Cornelia, marveling at how completely different her life is now than it was a month ago, her reverie is shattered: her uncle Mike, working on a road crew, spots her and vows to take her and her sisters back. As family, he has a right to take them in, and he can't wait to put the girls to work so he can drink their money away. Aware that he doesn't yet know where Nellie lives, she keeps the encounter to herself so as not to spoil anyone else's happiness. The secret eats away at her as she worries that she'll be unable to fulfill the promise she made to her mother to take care of Bridget and Jenny.

While Nellie is incredibly grateful to Samantha, Gard, and Cornelia, she's having trouble adjusting to living in the upper class. She worries that she's imposing too much on her benefactors, and the conversations with the girls at school are difficult to keep up with. Nellie understand all that they're talking about, but her experiences are so different. For instance, when the girls talk about their eighth birthday parties, they mention hot air balloon rides while she was too busy working in a factory to acknowledge her birthday at all.

Nellie has a distraction in the form helping Cornelia with some charity work. There's a settlement house near where Nellie's uncle used to live, a place for immigrants to learn American customs and ways to earn money in their new country. Nellie loves feeling useful as she introduces Cornelia and Samantha around, and translates the bits of Italian and German she knows so Cornelia can converse with some of the women. But back at home, Samantha is upset. Nellie isn't sure what's wrong, but she feels terribly guilty because she knows it has something to do with their trip to the settlement house. As Nellie spends more time with Gard and Cornelia and Samantha with Bridget and Jenny, it seems the family is increasingly split in half.

Suddenly, everything comes to light all at once. Nellie hears back from a school in Boston where she can go learn to be a teacher. Samantha blows up at Nellie, fearing Nellie will leave with Bridget and Jenny and never see the Edwards family again. Quickly, it's revealed that Samantha had been upset because she realized the awful conditions Nellie and her sisters lived in, and wanted to try to make up for what they'd been through. That's why she'd been spending so much time with Bridget and Jenny, and also being sure to give Nellie time with Gard and Cornelia, in hopes that she'd eventually reveal what had been troubling her. Nellie finally tells Samantha about her uncle. As the girls are headed to tell Gard and Cornelia about Mike's threat, they discover that he's in the parlor. Gard and Cornelia had hired a detective to find him so that he could sign over his legal rights to Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny, allowing Gard and Cornelia to formally adopt them. Mike balks at first, trying to con some money out of the wealthy couple, but Nellie threatens him with pressing charges of child abuse and abandonment. He hastily signs the papers and leaves.

The book ends three weeks before Samantha's birthday. She tells Nellie her of her birthday wish as they part ways: Nellie now attends a vocational school instead of Samantha's private school. Samantha's wish? She hopes that the adoption is finalized by her birthday, so that she can have three sisters for her present.

Looking Back

In the early 1900s, it was very rare for orphans to be adopted by anyone other than family. There was no real foster care or social system in place to be sure that orphans went to good homes, either. Many poorer children ended up in orphanages like the one Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny were at in Changes for Samantha. Children adopted out of these orphanages were usually taken on as workers rather than sons or daughters. There were "orphan trains" that took children out to the frontier, where they would often end up as farmhands. Sometimes the children on the orphan trains weren't really orphans, but children of destitute parents who signed formal surrender papers in hopes that their children would have a better life out west.


This book is dedicated to "Tamara England, dear friend and trusted editor, with love and thanks."

Instead of being set in 1904 or 1905, like the other Samantha books, this is set in 1906.

It's specified that Nellie's parents died in December. So the short stories about Christmas definitely take place before Changes for Samantha, as the feature Nellie without mention of her parents' death, and her father even makes an appearance in one.

Gard is a lawyer.

An exchange between Nellie and a teacher at the settlement house confirms that she is of Irish descent, and her referring to her mother as "Mam" implies that at least her mother was an immigrant.

There's a character named Ida Brown in Little Town on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, who is the adopted daughter of the church's pastor. She mentions that she has to work to earn her keep, since she's an orphan. I'm willing to bet that she came to the Dakota Territory on an orphan train. (Little Town on the Prairie takes in the early 1880s.)


Changes for Samantha

Written in 1988 by Valerie Tripp; illustrations by Dan Andreasen and Luann Roberts


As the book starts, it seems that life is good. After many years, Grandmary finally accepted the marriage proposal from Admiral Beemis, and they're on a long sailing trip on his yacht. Samantha now lives with Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia, in exciting New York City. One day after school, Samantha and Aunt Cornelia make valentines for the people close to them, chatting about what makes their loved ones special and planning surprises for them. Then Uncle Gard comes home with a letter from Nellie. Influenza hit Mount Bedford hard, and her parents died. The Van Sicklens are unable to keep the girls on, so Nellie and her sisters are moving in with their uncle in New York City. Nellie says she will come visit Samantha soon, and Samantha waits impatiently for her to come so she can be with her friend in her time of need.

But days pass with no word from Nellie. Samantha begins to worry, especially when a long-distance telephone call to Mrs. Van Sicklen confirms that Nellie and her sisters left Mount Bedford two weeks ago. She doesn't know where the uncle lives, only the neighborhood. Samantha is determined to find Nellie, no matter how difficult navigating the unfamiliar area might be. She is somewhat successful, only because the uncle is a known worthless drunk. She learns that he stole everything he could from Nellie and her sisters and disappeared. Another woman in the cramped apartment building took them in for a week, but as that family was destitute as well, Nellie felt she couldn't ask them to make the stay permanent. Nellie and her sisters are now in an orphanage a few block away. She quickly confesses her adventure to Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia, who warn her to never go to such a dangerous part of the city alone again, but also immediately make plans for Aunt Cornelia and Samantha to visit with treats for Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny.

The visit doesn't do much to comfort Samantha. The orphanage is less a place to care for children who have been through traumatic losses than a strict house of order designed to tear down fragile little ones and build up mousy, almost robotic servants in their places. The director (Miss Tusnelda Frouchy) won't allow Nellie and her sisters to have the gifts and barely allows a visit with Nellie at all. Samantha and Nellie are able to arrange that they will meet for a few brief minutes every afternoon when Nellie empties the ashes from the stoves into the trash. Samantha brings food for Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny, who are malnourished. Any other gifts, like the gloves Samantha gives Nellie to protect her chapped hands, are snatched away by Miss Frouchy. After several days of clandestine meetings, Nellie reveals that she's being sent away to be hired out in the West--without her sisters. Samantha convinces Nellie to sneak her sisters out with the next day, and she hides them in the attic of Uncle Gard's and Aunt Cornelia's house. It's not a long-term solution, especially with the eagle-eyed and strict maid Gertrude lurking about, but it will keep the sisters together until Samantha and Nellie come up with a better plan.

Sure enough, after a few days, Gertrude finds them. Samantha is heart-broken at the thought of the girls having to go back to the orphanage. Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia instruct all four of them to have warm baths and get some decent sleep; they'll decide what to do next in the morning.

The next day is Valentine's Day, and there are six places set with valentine cards. Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia explain that they have no need for maids, but would love three daughters. Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny happily accept the offer of adoption, and Samantha is elated at the thought of having sisters.

Looking Back

As new technology rapidly became available to the general public, the distinction between the upper and lower classes became less apparent. Electricity became more widespread, and the cost of goods relative to wages went down. As Samantha grew up, fewer people were willing to work as servants, because the emerging middle class meant that more of them could get better jobs. Women were also working outside the household more and more, and gaining more freedoms with that. It was still considered improper for a woman to live alone, but women were becoming more independent.


The book is dedicated to Petty, Heuer, and Dalton families.

So far, two people have died of the flu in my state this year. At least one had no other health concerns like a compromised immune system or lung disease. As I've written before, vaccines are a god-send that work so well, a lot of people have forgotten how terrible the diseases they prevent against can be. The flu--influenza--can be fatal. Gastroenteritis, or the "stomach flu" as it's sometimes called, is not the same thing at all.


Samantha Saves the Day

Written in 1988 by Valerie Tripp; illustrations by Dan Andreasen and Luann Roberts


Now that the weather is warmer, Samantha and Grandmary head to the summer home on a lake at Piney Point. Agnes, Agatha, Cornelia, Gard, and Grandmary's friend Admiral Archibald Beemis are all coming to visit. Admiral Beemis was Samantha's grandfather's best friend, and has continued his yearly visits even after her grandfather died. Rumor has it that every year, he asks Grandmary to marry him.

Samantha has fun showing Agnes and Agatha around the area, except when the twins suggest taking the boat out to Teardrop Island. It happens to be the place that Samantha's parents drowned during a storm when Samantha was five. The twins understand and drop the idea immediately, and the girls are able to go back to having fun soon after. One rainy day as they explore the attic, they find Samantha's mother's sketchbook, full of beautiful pencil drawings and watercolor paintings of Samantha and her parents at Teardrop Island. Seeing it as a place of beauty rather than one of sorrow and destruction makes Samantha want to visit it.

The next day the girls set out on their adventure. The island turns out to be just as beautiful as the sketchbook suggested, and they spend most of the day finding the places pictured in it. Then they notice some clouds coming in, and head back for their canoe. But it's gone! They each thought one of the other girls tied it, and after searching for a long time, can't find it. And no one knows where they are. The rain starts pounding as they desperately try to come up with a plan. They hear something rustling through the woods and worry that a bear or wolf is tracking them. Samantha bravely stands between the unknown thing and the twins, brandishing a stick, but it turns out to be Admiral Beemis. He had come to rescue them, but lost his footing on the wet rocks and hit his head. Just after finding the girls, he looses consciousness.

The girls are able to rouse him enough to get him down to his boat, where they lay him down. As the storm worsens, they row for Piney Point, knowing that while they might drown in the storm, Admiral Beemis will almost certainly not regain consciousness if he doesn't get to a doctor soon. Samantha guides the twins through the rocky waters, trying not to think about the night her parents died. They gut it out, and make it back in one piece. A doctor is on hand to see to Admiral Beemis's cut (no antibiotics then!) and probable concussion, but assures Samantha, Agnes, and Agatha that he will be fine. Samantha explains to Grandmary--who had also been nearly paralyzed with fear at the thought of her granddaughter meeting the same fate as her daughter and son-in-law--why she wanted to visit Teardrop Island. Grandmary and Uncle Gard look at the sketchbook, for the first time since the accident. They all agree to return to visit the island when the weather is better and everyone is well.

Looking Back

In the early 1900s, wealthy families would spend their summers at private resorts. They often liked to pretend they were "roughing it" like the pioneers. But unlike pioneers, they were still prim and proper, and any hunting was for sport rather than food. Most people didn't understand how to explore nature without destroying it, and the damage was noticed almost too late. People began working to preserve the natural beauty of the land, like John Muir when he founded the Sierra Club and Teddy Roosevelt when he established the National Parks system. Other conservationists had more specific causes: Sarah and James Philip saved the American bison from the brink of extinction. While there are still lasting effects of the recklessness, there are also many natural places being preserved and enjoyed.


The book is dedicated to Charlotte Katherine Campbell and Patrick Granger Campbell.

The twins are always pictured in identical outfits.

ALWAYS tell someone your plans when you go adventuring: where you're going and how long you expect to be gone. At the very least, the girls should have left a note.

Grandmary seems to be softening a bit as the books go on. She's more understanding than she was in Meet Samantha.

The large bovines that live on the North American plains aren't technically buffalo. They're bison. Buffaloes are the creatures in Africa. By the way, authentic mozzarella cheese is made from water buffalo milk. You can buy some from this small family-run dairy farm near me: http://www.rivervalleycheese.com/ (accepts online orders).


Happy Birthday, Samantha!

Written in 1987 by Valerie Tripp; illustrations by Dan Andreasen and Jana Fothergill


The book opens on the morning of May 26, 1905: Samantha's tenth birthday. Agnes and Agatha rush into Samantha's room with birthday greetings, a great start to the day. The twins help Samantha get ready for her party. At their suggestion, Mrs. Hawkins is going to make petit fours and Mr. Hawkins is going to make peppermint ice cream molded in individual dishes. Her birthday party drags for a little while though, until Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia show up with their new puppy, Jip. The girls have fun playing with the puppy, and are impressed with the fancy desserts. Too bad Eddie Ryland ruined the ice cream by putting too much salt in it (revenge for not being invited to the party). Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia suggest that Samantha come visit them in New York City the next week, where they know of a good ice cream parlor.

On their way to Uncle Gard's and Aunt Cornelia's, Samantha and Grandmary see some suffragists. Grandmary doesn't see any reason to rock the boat; why should women want to vote if things have gotten along just fine without their voting? Cornelia seems to disagree, but in interest of keeping the peace doesn't say anything. Samantha is curious about suffrage, but Uncle Gard distracts her with a present of a doll carriage. Samantha, Agnes, and Agatha decide to take a walk with their dolls and Jip. But Jip runs away, leading the girls around the city as they try to find him. They catch up to him at the suffragist meeting...where they are shocked to see that Cornelia is giving a speech!

After her speech, Cornelia tells the girls why she thinks voting is important and why women should be able to have a say in how the country is run. Then they all realize they're about to be late to meet Uncle Gard and Grandmary at the ice cream parlor, so they rush over to it. Grandmary is waiting, noticeably flushed. It turns out she passed by the meeting on the way to the parlor, and saw Cornelia speaking. Knowing Cornelia to be be a sensible woman, Grandmary decided to hear her out, and actually agreed with Cornelia. Her speech helped Grandmary see that the suffragists don't want change for the sake of change, they truly believe they are campaigning for the right thing. And she's changed her mind: now she wants to vote, too!

Looking Back

Bizarrely, the historical bit is not about suffrage, but childhood in Samantha's time. Babies were typically born at home, usually with the assistance of a doctor (some of my friends have done homebirths and loved the experience; I'm glad that women today have so many choices). Childhood as a time for play was a relatively new thing in Samantha's time, but girls in the upper class were still expected to act like ladies, especially as they got close to adulthood.


The book is dedicated to Christopher Wallace Draper.

Samantha has her birthday party on her actual birthday. There's no school that day. Some schools are out in May, but most in the northern states are still in session. None of this would be an issue except that May 26, 1905 was a Friday. Too bad she wasn't born May 9. It was still a weekday in 1905 (Tuesday), but she'd share a birthday with my younger daughter.

This book confirms that Grandmary is Samantha's maternal grandmother; she has a flower circlet that Samantha's mother wore on her tenth birthday.

One of the funniest things I've ever seen on TV was Adam Corolla and Jimmy Kimmel setting up a petition to stop the suffraging of women. "Women are suffraging all over the world!" Of course, people thought they meant suffering and were signing the petition. A few people caught on to the joke, but most didn't.


Samantha's Special Talent

Published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp or Sarah Masters Buckey; illustrator Dan Andreasen, Troy Howell, Susan McAliley, or Philip Hood


The Mount Bedford Library roof is in dire need of repair. There's a meeting scheduled to discuss and solve the problem, but the people in charge are doubtful anyone will come. Samantha and her friend Ida help organize a talent show to draw the crowds. Ida is shy but a very good artist, so she's content to make posters. Samantha wants to perform, but not the piano like she always does (plus, Edith Eddleton is better at piano than Samantha). Soon students from her school and others are signing up for a variety of acts: playing musical instruments, singing, performing magic tricks, and one boy is even bringing his parrot to perform. Samantha also convinces the new girl from France to demonstrate some ballet moves, and she wins second place (Edith wins first). Because she's so busy organizing acts and selling tickets, Samantha ends up not performing in the talent show at all. But at the end of the show, the people in charge of the library call Samantha on stage to publicly acknowledge her leadership skills and announce that they've raised a significant amount of money toward a new library, and Samantha will receive the first library card from it.

Looking Back

In keeping with the theme of entertainment, this section is about vaudeville. It's interesting that while prejudices were evident in some forms, like African-American actors being required to wear blackface, the shows were inclusive in other ways. Men AND women of all nationalities were welcome on stage, and women got paid about the same as men, sometimes more.


My short story collection book is inscribed in the front with "Elysa #21 Mrs. Able."

I didn't realize that Houdini and Buster Keaton got their starts in vaudeville.


Samantha's Blue Bicycle

Published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp or Sarah Masters Buckey; illustrator Dan Andreasen, Troy Howell, Susan McAliley, or Philip Hood


Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia have come for a visit, the first since the wedding. They've brought Samantha a present from their honeymoon in England: a bicycle! Samantha's excited to try it, and excited to impress Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia. Grandmary has misgivings, but allows Samantha to try it. At first, Samantha has a wonderful time, but when she goes cycling in the park her skirt gets caught in the chain and she crashes. It's a big enough crash that Samantha is glad to see the front tire is flat so she can pretend to be braver about trying the bike again than she really is.

Some time goes by, and the bicycle sits unused, even after Hawkins fixes it. Then Uncle Gard calls to announce that he and Aunt Cornelia will be visiting soon with Agnes and Agatha, to ride bikes with Samantha. Samantha tries to get used to her bike, but even in the driveway she falls. Grandmary sees Samantha struggling, and acknowledges that while she herself wouldn't have picked a bike for Samantha, she can see that Samantha is trying very hard to learn it, and believes she can help Samantha enjoy it again.

And what does Grandmary suggest? Unladylike bloomers! Aunt Cornelia is especially surprised, but Grandmary reminds Aunt Cornelia of what she told Grandmary earlier: "A lady is a lady no matter what she wears." Now unencumbered and full of confidence, Samantha's ready to zip around the park with her family.

Looking Back

Cycling had been steadily gaining popularity in the late 1800s, and by Samantha's time they were fairly common-place. Bicycles allowed women more freedom to get places, as they were more acceptable for women to ride than horses, and easier too. They also started to influence fashion, acting as a catalyst for trousers to come into style for women, and corsets to go out of style.


My short story collection book is inscribed in the front with "Elysa #21 Mrs. Able."

Samantha mentions having chicken pox. I wonder if the author threw that in thinking it would be familiar to kids. While this collection of short stories was put together and published as a set in 2006, I know I read it in the American Girl magazine in the early 90s. That's when the chicken pox vaccine was gaining ground. So much for kids having experience with it!

Samantha's house has a driveway, according to the text.

Laura Ingalls Wilder would have been growing up when bicycles were becoming popular (she was born in 1867), but she never refers to them in her books. While it seems she would have enjoyed a bike, they were probably hard to come by on the frontier.

I wonder why Cornelia's younger sisters' names all begin with "A" and hers doesn't. (Agnes, Agatha, Alice)


Samantha Saves the Wedding

Published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp or Sarah Masters Buckey; illustrator Dan Andreasen, Troy Howell, Susan McAliley, or Philip Hood


As the story opens we are introduced to Cornelia's younger sisters, nine-year-old twins Agatha and Agnes and three-year-old Alice. Samantha and Grandmary meet them while staying with Cornelia's family as the wedding draws near. Samantha enjoys playing with her new friends, and helping Cornelia prepare for the wedding. She and the twins admire Cornelia's beautiful veil, which Cornelia promises the younger girls can wear at their weddings. Her sisters are excited, but Samantha politely declines, as Grandmary has been saving the veil Samantha's mother wore at her wedding. But during their play, Alice dresses up as a bride...by cutting Cornelia's veil in two...on the day of the wedding!

Samantha has a plan. There are five hours to go before the wedding. She convinces Uncle Gard to drive her back to Mount Bedford, where she sprints into the house to retrieve her mother's veil. They dash back with just moments to spare. Cornelia is honored to wear the veil, and the wedding is perfect.

Looking Back

The looking back section is about weddings in 1904. There were many traditions that brides and grooms followed, even down to what meanings a postage stamp could carry if it were placed in a particular part of an envelope. My dad has letters that his grandparents sent to each other around that time...I should look at the stamps!


My short story collection book is inscribed in the front with "Elysa #21 Mrs. Able."

This book seems to indicate that Grandmary is Samantha's maternal grandmother.


Samantha's Surprise

Written in 1986 by Maxine Rose Schur; illustrations by Dan Andreasen and Eileen Potts Dawson


Yay! My favorite American Girl book!

It's almost Christmas. Samantha knows there's a wonderful doll at a nearby toy store, but also knows that after giving Lydia away just a few months ago she can't ask Grandmary for the other doll for Christmas. Even though Samantha had a good reason to give Lydia away, it wouldn't be right. She doesn't have much time to dwell on it though, not with her other Christmas plans. She wants to make a huge gingerbread house with Mrs. Hawkins, and decorate the house with her handmade things, and finish making Christmas presents, plus there's her classmate Ida's Christmas party to attend, and she learns that Uncle Gard is bringing Cornelia over for Christmas.

But the excitement is short-lived: Grandmary has decided that Cornelia's visit means that things must be just so. Samantha's handmade decorations are passed over in favor of a service putting up profession decorations (and really, how boring is that?), and the extra cooking means Mrs. Hawkins won't be able to help Samantha with even a tiny gingerbread house. Uncle Gard and Cornelia are due to arrive the same day as Ida's party, so Samantha has to miss out on that, too. Suddenly Samantha doesn't care that she has no time to make a present for Cornelia, and decides she won't even bother to make one.

However, Uncle Gard and Cornelia come, Samantha soon remembers how much she likes Cornelia. Cornelia plays with Samantha, goes sledding with her, and appreciates her handmade decorations. She even wants to help Samantha make a gingerbread house! Furthermore, Samantha realizes that Uncle Gard is in love with Cornelia. Clearly, Cornelia needs a special gift. Knowing how much Cornelia likes chocolates, Samantha buys her a pound of fancy truffles.

On Christmas morning, everyone gathers by the tree to exchange gifts. Samantha notices that her present from Grandmary is much smaller than the doll she'd seen, but she couldn't really expect the doll since she never asked for it. But she is very happy with her gifts regardless, and appreciative of her family's generosity. Then Cornelia gives Samantha a large package...containing the doll! Samantha and Cornelia had admired together as they window shopped, but Samantha is floored. She quickly trades gifts, giving Uncle Gard the pound of chocolate and Cornelia a fancy box she'd decorated for Uncle Gard to put his cufflinks in. Then Uncle Gard gives Cornelia something to put inside: an engagement ring!

Looking Back

The historical section talks about Christmas in the early 1900s, which had many similarities to Christmas today: lots of decorations and presents. Boxing Day was more popular then that it is now (at least, I don't see much in the way of Boxing Day here). Well-to-do people not only gave their servants presents on Boxing Day, but also sent gifts to orphanages and hospitals on December 26.


The book is dedicated to Liliana, Cecila, and Susana.

Like Samantha Learns a Lesson, I had the audio book of this as a child, and can still "hear" it read in the same voice.

Samantha and Grandmary don't get a tree until Christmas Eve. I knew someone like that in college, so I know that some people prefer it that way, but I like mine up the first Sunday of Advent (which can be as early as November 27 and as late as December 3).

Samantha gives these handmade gifts: a strawberry-shaped satin pincushion for Jessie, a book about a lost dog for her baby Nathaniel, a heart-shaped lace sachet filled with dried rose petals for Grandmary, a glasses chain for Mrs. Hawkins, a blue velvet cape that Lydia can wear for Nellie, and a box decorated with pictures originally intended for Uncle Gard's cufflinks but instead given to Cornelia. The book doesn't mention a gift for Mr. Hawkins or Elsa.

Samantha receives these gifts: a grown-up sewing kit from Grandmary, a book of Christmas carols that plays the tune to "O Christmas Tree" from Uncle Gard, and of course the doll from Cornelia.


Samantha and the Missing Pearls

Published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp or Sarah Masters Buckey; illustrator Dan Andreasen, Troy Howell, Susan McAliley, or Philip Hood


Christmas is coming, and with it, Christmas gifts. Mrs. Van Sicklen, who employs Nellie's family, has gotten an early present from her mother: a string of black pearls. But before she's had a chance to enjoy them, they mysteriously disappear. Mrs. Ryland and Mrs. Eddleton are over for tea, and the neighbors immediately accuse Nellie of stealing the necklace. Samantha and Nellie overhear them, and carefully retrace events, trying to find the necklace. They suspect the taciturn handyman, Jones, and attempt to sneak into his room. But Jones and his intimidating dog happen across their path, and they jump down the nearby coal chute to evade him.

The crashing alerts Mrs. Van Sicklen and her guests. They rush down to the cellar to see Samantha and Nellie in the coal pile. As Samantha is trying to come with an explanation, Nellie notices something in the dust. The necklace! It must have slipped off Mrs. Van Sicklen's dresser into the bucket of ashes Nellie took down to the cellar that morning! The mystery is solved, Nellie is exonerated (in the eyes of the neighbors; Mrs. Van Sicklen trusted her), and the girls realize they made the same mistake in assuming Jones had taken it. Happy endings all around!

Looking Back

About the time Samantha was growing up, Gertrude Chandler Warner, the author of the Boxcar Children books was too. The Looking Back section is about her.


My short story collection book is inscribed in the front with "Elysa #21 Mrs. Able."

I know people whose last names are in two pieces like Mrs. Van Sicklen. But they don't capitalize the "v" in their names, it's always van Rest-of-the-name.


Samantha's Winter Party

Published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp or Sarah Masters Buckey; illustrator Dan Andreasen, Troy Howell, Susan McAliley, or Philip Hood


This book takes place in the December following Samantha Learns a Lesson. Nellie is more accepted by Samantha's friends, with whom she sometimes goes skating after school. But she still endures barbs from bullies, including a very public and extraordinarily rude uninvitation to a Christmas party. To lift Nellie's spirits, Samantha suggests the small group of friends have their own party. When another girl suggests they all exchange presents, Samantha makes plans with Nellie to make their own gifts, so that Nellie, who doesn't have the money to buy presents, won't be left out. Unfortunately, the corsages they try to make out of pine cones, ribbon, paper snowflakes, and glitter are a disaster. Nellie thanks Samantha for her help, but declines further offers.

The next time the girls meet to skate, Nellie is absent. Samantha goes to the Van Sicklens' house, but Nellie is unusually abrupt and all but shoos Samantha out the door. Samantha thinks Nellie is upset with her, so is surprised to see her at the Christmas party. The girls have a fun afternoon together, and present Nellie with a gift they all chipped in for: a brand-new pair of ice skates to replace her old rusty ones. Nellie is overjoyed, and not just because of her friends' kindness: she has something to show them.

Nellie leads the girls to the ice skating pond. She and her father got up before sunrise that morning and decorated it with the supplies from the failed corsages. Her father is waiting for them with his violin, and plays music for them to skate to, and the girls have a magical time.

Looking Back

Ice skating was very popular in the early 1900s, fueled in part by the Olympic games. When women competed in ice skating, the were expected to wear long ankle-length skirts and refrain from performing any "unlady-like" jumps. But in 1924 eleven-year-old Sonja Henie worn a knee-length skirt and so impressed the judges with her twirls and leaps that she won the gold medal, paving the way for the figure skaters we're used to today.


My short story collection book is inscribed in the front with "Elysa #21 Mrs. Able."

I have a Christmas party with some of my friends from high school this weekend. We all bring some snacks, some cookies, and ONE gift for a gift exchange.

Nellie's last name is O'Malley. It's not stated outright in the books, but I think her family must have recently immigrated from Ireland. Her parents' being Irish would explain their difficulty in finding gainful employment.


Samantha Learns a Lesson

Written in 1986 by Susan S. Adler, illustrations by Dan Andreasen and Eileen Potts Dawson


Samantha is thrilled: at Grandmary's urging, the Van Sicklen family down the street has hired Nellie's parents! Nellie and her sisters are expected to do some housework, but will also attend the Mount Bedford's local public school. Jenny and Bridget, her sisters who are six and seven respectively, start out in first grade. Despite being nine, Nellie starts in second grade, as she can only read a little bit. She soon finds herself the victim of bullying as her schoolmates mock her for being behind and having worn-out clothing. Samantha immediately consults her teacher at the private school for how to help Nellie catch up in her studies (the teacher seems pretty awesome). Nellie learns quickly, and shows she's already proficient in some areas like math. The girls name their study area, a room high in Samantha's home, the Mount Better School.

Due to consorting with servant girls, Samantha gets a bit of bullying herself from haughty girls at school. When Samantha asks Grandmary why well-to-do people don't like their children to play with servants, Grandmary counters that Samantha is helping Nellie, not playing with her, which makes Samantha uncomfortable but she leaves it alone. But then she overhears Grandmary talking with some haughty woman from the neighborhood, defending Nellie's family.

Samantha has to keep up with her own studies as well. At Miss Crampton's Academy, she has the opportunity to enter a speech contest about progress in America. After asking several adults their opinions on what shows progress, she decides to speak about how factories make goods faster and for less money than the goods could be made by hand. She and one of the haughty girls win the honor of giving their speeches with the top two from other schools in the area at a big assembly. Nellie is excited for Samantha, and asks to hear her speech. But having worked in a factory, Nellie points out the harsh conditions that Samantha's speech has overlooked. Stunned by the awful environment her friend had to live with (for under two dollars a week), Samantha rewrites her speech. At the assembly, she expands her speech to how America should improve the ways workers, especially children, are treated in factories before they can be truly proud of their innovation. The audience sits in stunned silence for several moments after Samantha finishes, before Grandmary sees Nellie's reaction and leads everyone in applause. Samantha wins first prize. Nellie has good news too: she's moved up to third grade!

Looking Back

In the early 1900s, children were required by law to attend school until they were sixteen. Some went to private academies like Samantha, and more went to private school. Students learned about the basic subjects, like math, reading, grammar, geography, foreign languages, and history. Physical education and manners were also considered very important. Still, many students stopped attending school after eighth grade (14 years old) in favor of working, and completely high school, let alone college, was rare. Some children didn't attend school at all, because they had to earn money to help their families survive.


This book is dedicated to "David, Rachel, and Daniel, who keep childhood open to me."

Nellie still has Lydia. The doll shows obvious signs of being a well-loved comfort object.

Like Meet Samantha, I had this as an audio book, and hear the woman's voice "reading" it as I read the book.

My opinion? Advancements in medical signs are one of, if not the, best signs of progress.


Meet Samantha

Written by Susan S. Adler in 1986; illustrated by Dan Andreason and Renee Graef


Here we are introduced to Samantha Parkington, a nine-year-old growing in 1904 New York who lives with her wealthy grandmother. Her parents were killed in a boating accident when she was five. Samantha straddles two worlds: the old-fashioned Victorian one her Grandmary inhabits, where she's expected to act lady-like, and the newer Edwardian era with suffrage and tomboyishness.

As she's very wealthy, Grandmary employs several servants: her seamstress, Jessie, who often helps Samantha out of scrapes (like cleaning her up when she takes a tumble during the non-Grandmary-approved activity of tree-climbing); a grumpy maid named Elsa; her butler and driver Mr. Hawkins who is kind to Samantha; and her cook Mrs. Hawkins who is also friendly with Samantha. Samantha is also close to Uncle Gard, but is unsure about Cornelia, his...whatever they called girlfriends in 1904.

Although Samantha has many people in her life who care for her, she doesn't really have friends. The annoying boy next door, Eddie Ryland, certainly doesn't count. She's understandably excited when the Rylands hire nine-year-old Nellie to work for them (her family--a mom, a dad, and two younger sisters--is destitute). Since she's supposed to be working, Nellie can't really play, but Samantha helps her with her duties so that they can have a few moments together. Nellie opens Samantha's eyes to a world beyond her own: Nellie's family often goes without food or heat, and Nellie's never been to school. Samantha resolves to teach her in their brief times together.

In the midst of this, Jessie suddenly announces that she won't be returning to work the next day. All the adults seem to understand what's going on, but no one will enlighten Samantha. She's briefly distracted by a gift from Grandmary, a fancy doll Samantha had been wanting because it looks like her mother. But while she's thrilled with the doll, she misses Jessie. Being imaginative, she makes up fantastic reasons for Jessie's abrupt departure, but Nellie has a much more reasonable explanation: maybe Jessie had a baby. Since Nellie knows where Jessie lives, she and Samantha plan to sneak out that night and make a clandestine visit. On the way there, Samantha's world gets a little bigger as she learns Jessie and her husband are forced to live in a dilapidated section of town: the colored part. They find Jessie's house, and meet her baby, Nathaniel, before her husband Lincoln (three guesses who he's named for, and the first two don't count) guides them home.

But the next, Samantha learns that Nellie is being sent away from the Rylands'. Mrs. Ryland fears that Nellie is too weak to work. She'll have to go back to the factory where she worked before. With help from Mrs. Hawkins, Samantha sends Nellie off with a large basket of food (including a whole ham, which should last a bit!)...and her prized doll, Lydia. She tells Grandmary that she lost her doll, for which Grandmary scolds her about not treating things of value properly. But Uncle Gard reveals the truth (Mrs. Hawkins told him), and Grandmary quickly recants her statements, surmising that Samantha does indeed understand how to value things...and people. During the same conversation, Samantha reveals that she knows why Jessie left. Grandmary agrees to offer that Jessie can continue working for her if she's comfortable bringing Nathaniel, and also to find a way to help Nellie's family.

Looking Back

In this book, the section details the life that the wealthy lived at the turn of the (last) century, and all the work that went into making the finery possible. It took an army of servants to create the setting. Children like Samantha weren't even expected to make their own beds. But things were changing: suffragettes were campaigning for women to be respected as people, not just workers (poor women) or decorations in fancy homes (rich women). Technology was also growing in leaps and bounds with the advent of wide-spread electricity, fueling the changing times.


Samantha attends the same church as her next-door neighbors, the Rylands (who employ Nellie and her family).

I had this as a book on tape as a child, and I can still "hear" the words being read in the same voice as the woman who did the recording.

I'm not sure if Grandmary is Samantha's maternal or paternal grandmother.

I just had a thought: was it a marketing ploy that so many of the American Girls had dolls themselves? Especially Samantha's fancy one?

So, Jessie can bring her baby to work with her. Just like me! (I'm a nanny and bring BOTH my kids with me when my husband's at work)