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.


Card Catalog said...

This was my favorite, too. There was just something so perfect about it.

SJSiff said...

I can't quite come up with a reason either...I got the Felicity doll when I was a kid, and really enjoy a lot of the stories, but for some reason this one stands out.

Isabel Escalante said...

I loved this book, too, but my favorite Samantha book is 'Changes for Samantha'.
In my house, we usually put our Christmas tree up on November 26.

SJSiff said...

Changes for Samantha is great! I didn't read it until I was older, so it's not as nostalgic for me. But I still really enjoy it.