The Traveler's Tricks

Published in 2014; author Laurie Calkhoven; illustrator Sergio Giovine


Caroline has only just returned from helping Lydia with the fall harvest at her farm when she's off again. Her father needs her to deliver some important ship documents to a foundry in Albany and order some parts. He can't leave the shipyard long enough to do it himself--it's three days one way--but the Hathaways were planning to go to Albany. Mrs. Hathaway and Amelia left earlier, but Rhonda can go with Caroline on the stagecoach. Caroline's first stagecoach ride promises to be excited, and the excitement starts right away. Some sailors mill around before the stagecoach leaves, looking for a man they say stole from them. Not finding him, they leave...and a man named Mr. Herrick rushes in at the last moment. Hmm. At the first stop, Caroline notices a woman acting afraid of the stagecoach driver, Mr. Danforth. Mr. Herrick performs some magic tricks, delighting everyone. Two people join them: the woman was acted afraid, Miss Bullard, traveling to Albany to seek employment, and a Mr. Jencks, needing to deliver information to New York's governor (Albany is the capital of New York). They eat breakfast and then go back to the stagecoach, where Mr. Jencks finds his bags opened. Why he didn't keep things containing sensitive information vital to the war effort on her person at times is beyond me, but after a careful search, he finds nothing missing. Everyone checks their things too, just in case. Five-year-old Jackson notices that Caroline has a lot of money, to pay the foundry for some ship pieces, and asks loudly if he can count it for her. Great, now everyone knows. 

The stagecoach makes an unscheduled stop a bit later when it needs a brief repair. Caroline is glad to have stopped, because she and Rhonda saw a rider following them and want to see if they can figure out why. The go a short distance from the stagecoach but only end up startled by a bobcat. Or was it? There were no bobcat tracks. And why is Miss Bullard so insistent that there was no rider, when she was obviously looking at him? Just then, Rhonda realizes her bag is open and her gold locket is missing! A quick search reveals the pouch it was in, but no locket. Maybe the rider stole them. Or, Caroline thinks, maybe someone on the stagecoach. As a precaution, everyone puts their valuables--including the package Caroline is to deliver--in a mail lockbox the driver has. The stagecoach continues through several towns, and each time the driver opens the box to add mail to it, Caroline watches like a hawk to be sure the things are still safe. At the last stop of the day, the passengers are briefly amused by a servant girl who comes screaming from the barn stalls that the pigs were talking--ah, someone can throw voices. The bobcat scream was probably from the same person. 

But the amusement fades when the lockbox is discovered smashed. The valuables--including the top-secret document Mr. Jencks was carrying and Caroline's package--are gone. Whoever stole them smashed the box against the stagecoach wheel, damaging it enough that they'll have to stay two nights. Caroline notices that no one in the town showed up until after the lockbox was discovered. The thief has to be one of the passengers! She thinks it must be Mr. Herrick or Miss Bullard. Rhonda doesn't want to suspect the young woman, only three years older than herself (five than Caroline) and so nice, but Caroline notices her hiding food in cloak. Maybe for the mysterious rider? She stays awake in hopes of looking in Miss Bullard's cloak to see if it also holds the stolen goods, but instead Miss Bullard herself sneaks out. Caroline follows and watches her meet up with a young man who opens the cloak to reveal only food, which is hungrily devours. Miss Bullard returns to the room the women (and Jackson, traveling with his grandmother) are sharing and Caroline slips in later, undetected. And very cold from going out barefoot in November. 

At breakfast the next morning, Mr. Jencks convinces the inn owner to let Mr. Herrick perform a magic show. Oddly, he has to convince Mr. Herrick to perform as well. You'd think an entertainer would jump at the chance for extra income. A new passenger joins the group too. Caroline is shocked to see that he's the man Miss Bullard met last night. They look so much alike that they must be siblings, and Miss Bullard mentioned that the only living member of her immediate was her older brother. But he's supposed to be in the military, and the two act as if they've never met, and the man introduces himself as Mr. Sanborn. Caroline takes Rhonda back to their room to disclose her suspicions, but they see Jackson playing with the model boat Caroline's father had sent along for the foundry (kept separate from the rest of the package). Caroline scolds him mildly. His grandmother, maddeningly, blames Caroline for leaving things out to tempt him, when she didn't leave it out and he already knew he shouldn't be playing with, but does tell him to apologize. He also gives Caroline an odd doll he had, assuming it to be hers. He must have grabbed it when everyone emptied their bags to be searched after Rhonda's locket went missing. Rhonda recognizes the doll as a ventriloquist dummy. Caroline has an advertise from Mr. Herrick, which lists his talent for ventriloquism. 

Before they can figure it that means anything (throwing voices!) they see Miss Bullard and Mr. Sanborn slipping into a private room. Miss Bullard hands Mr. Sanborn something that could be the money from Caroline's package, and Caroline and Rhonda confront them. It turns to be letters. The two are indeed siblings, and the letters are the last ones "Mr. Sanborn" got from his father before the elder Mr. Bullard died. The younger Mr. Bullard had been gotten leave from his post to visit his desperately ill father, but didn't reach home in time. He overstayed his leave to helped his sister, the only one left alive on their farm, bring in the harvest. He's a deserter now, and was planning to meet his sister in Albany under an assumed name to start a new life. He'd been following the stagecoach on horseback--so he was the mysterious rider and his sister pretended not to see him. But he decided that morning that once his sister is safely in Albany, he will turn himself in, hoping that his superiors will be understanding of his reasons. Neither sibling has any idea where the stolen items might be.

Caroline and Rhonda go to Mr. Danforth with their suspicions. He's hesitant to finger Mr. Herrick, who is a long-time friend. Besides, the ad is for The Great Nicholas, and Mr. Herrick doesn't perform under that name. When Mr. Danforth shows the ad and the ventriloquist dummy to Mr. Herrick, he says neither are his, but he suspect they belong to Mr. Jencks. After all, they have only his word that he's collecting information for the governor, and isn't that the perfect cover for asking intrusive questions of everyone? Questions that can inform him who is worth stealing from? Mr. Herrick thinks that Mr. Jencks plans to use sleight of hand to steal from the audience during the magic performance he insisted Mr. Herrick give. But there's no real proof yet. No one can be arrested on mere speculation. Figuring Mr. Jencks must have a secret pocket in his overcoat (that he never takes off), Mr. Herrick devises a plan to catch the man red-handed during his performance.

While Mr. Herrick delights the crowd, Caroline tries to watch Mr. Jencks. She can't see him do anything wrong, no pick-pocketing or anything. Mr. Herrick calls all the stagecoach passengers to the front row for his grand finale. Mr. Jencks objects at first, saying that he's too tall and the women in the audience won't be able to see over him, but finally acquiesces. A clever series of distractions follow, ending with the reveal that the bag Mr. Jencks always keeps close has a false bottom, containing the stolen goods. Mr. Jencks is arrested, and when the constable looks through the coat, he finds various good stolen from the audience. 

So everything is returned to its proper place. Rhonda also realizes she can help Mr. Bullard by writing to her father, an officer where Mr. Bullard had been stationed. He did do something wrong, but his heart was in the right place, so the hope is that his punishment won't be too severe. Caroline is happy to hear that, and very relieved to have her father's things back. Now she can deliver the package safely!

Looking Back

The historical section is about stagecoach travel in the early 1800s, and how taverns were welcome respites along the bumpy, uncomfortable, sometimes dangerous way. They weren't just bars but also had lodging and family-friendly entertainment (although there weren't private rooms, and sometimes not even private beds). 


This book is dedicated to "Josanne with love and thanks."

I thought Caroline would be the first character with all her books written by the same author, but this last mystery proved me wrong.

Caroline gets bored during part of her travels, having no embroidery to work on (she has a rope to practice knot-tying, but gives it to Jackson sometimes to keep him occupied). I would be out of my mind if I didn't have a book to read or some knitting to do.

The next two months will be a little different: in November I'll do the History Mystery and Girls of Many Lands books, and December will be the Girls of the Year. There will be a post almost every day, since there are so many of those books. The posts will slow up significantly after that, until the new Girl of the Year and the new historical character mysteries are out. I'll probably try to get my hands on the Baby-sitters Club graphic novels, too.


Traitor in the Shipyard

Published in 2013; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrator Sergio Giovine


It's a busy time at the shipyard: the US Navy has ordered a schooner, two of the workers have enlisted, and guards must be on duty 24/7 to watch for spies. Hosea, the sail maker, has just taken on a young apprentice named Paul, and more help comes in the form of Mr. Osborne, a man who was a prisoner of war with Caroline's father. Caroline's father had heard that Mr. Osborne was shot and killed while trying to escape, and is thrilled to see him. Mr. Osborne is more used to making furniture, but he'll learn quickly. He's very gregarious too, while Paul is shy. Caroline hopes to befriend both. She finds chatting with Mr. Osborne easy. He's eager to learn about his new trade, and Caroline loves telling him about the important work her father does. While Paul is quieter, used to being on his own due to being an orphan, Caroline is friendly to him as well. She also tries to find time to help out with the shipyard, and to help Rhonda sew a quilt for Lydia (Caroline will be returning to her cousin's farm later in the summer) or fish on the Miss Caroline. 

But there's a saboteur about. Planks of wood intended for the boat get shoved into Lake Ontario and water-logged; a sail is ripped; oakum (a substance to seal the boats) is destroyed. Some of this happens even after guard duty is doubled, forcing the Abbotts to consider that the culprit might be someone who works in the shipyard. Fifty pages in, I'm suspecting either Mr. Osborne or Paul, more likely the former in cahoots with the lady friend he seems to have or maybe Mr. Tate--that would be a huge betrayal and make for an interesting story. 

Caroline's father doesn't share my suspicions about Mr. Osborne. He invites his friend and Mrs. Hodges (the lady friend), a widow Mr. Osborne knows from before he was captured, over to dinner. Mrs. Hodges is a skilled seamstress and has just moved to Sacketts Harbor to make money sewing shirts for the military. Quite the coincidence that they happened to meet there. Mrs. Hodges offers to help Caroline and Rhonda with the center block of their quilt, on which they want to stitch a boat. Caroline notices that during dinner, Mr. Osborne states he's been in town four days, when he's only been in two. Maybe just a slip of the tongue. But the next day he pockets a letter clearly not for him (Caroline had seen all the letters at the Post Office). She confides her concerns to her father, who angrily defends his friend. Caroline is upset that she's disappointed her father, but shake the feeling that something's off about Mr. Osborne. When she and Rhonda go to sew with Mrs. Hodges, they admire a necklace Mr. Osborne gave her the day before. It slips out of Caroline's hand when Mrs. Hodges is delivering some shirts to a Navy man down the hall of her boardinghouse, and a stone in it shifts, revealing a scrap of paper with a code on it. Caroline resets the stone quickly but pockets the paper. What could it mean?

One night, Caroline and Rhonda stay late at the shipyard helping the workers make up for time lost due to sabotage. During a bathroom break, Caroline sees Hosea arrange a secret meeting with someone, and returns to watch. He's helping a US Navy sailor row out into the lake. Her heart sinks, fearing the man her family trusts is a traitor. Hosea sees her watching, and the next day tells her what was going on: he took a US sailor to meet a British sailor on an island in Lake Ontario, to defect and fight for the British. But it's not because Hosea wants Britain to win. It's the lesser of two evils: his friend is an escaped slave (Hosea is a free black man) and the US Navy is compelled by law to return men like him to slavery. If they fight for the British, the men are guaranteed freedom in Canada. Caroline understands the difficult choices Hosea and his friends are forced to make, and agrees to keep his secret.

However, Hosea also shares Caroline's suspicions about Mr. Osborne. He's even seen Mr. Osborne talking with a naval paymaster, which is totally out of place, but he can't tell anyone about it without revealing how he's been helped his friends get to Canada. It's up to Caroline and Rhonda to figure what, if anything, Mr. Osborne is up to.

Their chance almost comes too late: they're rowing the Miss Caroline out to watch a trial sail of the gunboat when they see barrels of gunpowder in the water ahead of the gunboat's path, rigged to blow the ship to kingdom come. They're just able to get the gunboat to turn course. Caroline's father knows that only someone working at his shipyard would have known about the trail sail. He's finally ready to listen to Caroline's worries about Mr. Osborne. Caroline goes with her father to confront him when they see Mr. Osborne talking with the paymaster again. The truth tumbles out in bits and pieces.

Mr. Osborn is a spy, but for the Americans. Mrs. Hodges is the traitor. She think the US would be better off still under the Crown. But she didn't know that anyone's life would be in danger, and denies any knowledge of the gunpowder. She also didn't sabotage the shipyard--she was only sending messages (and some boat knowledge, thanks to the help she was giving Caroline and Rhonda). Paul was the saboteur. He grew up in Canada and was being paid by the British to cause trouble in the shipyard. He got to know the men there and became friends with them and Caroline, though, and felt truly bad for thwarting their work, and had recently refused to participate anymore. The deadly plot to destroy the gunboat was the work of a Mr. Crowley, a clerk whose centrally-located office made him privy to all sorts of secrets (he was mentioned earlier in the plot as someone Caroline didn't like). 

A week later, Paul is released from jail and is being given a second chance at the shipyard, after it was taken into consideration that he actually helped finger the bigger culprit and was contrite. The quilt top (the most time-consuming part) gets finished too, and just in time as Caroline needs to go back to help at her cousin's farm--the destitute family has found work and will be moving. Caroline and Rhonda didn't finish the quilt themselves, though. Several women came together to help them with a quilting bee, and Hosea even made a quilt square to add to it. Caroline and Rhonda also got rid of the center block that Mrs. Hodges helped them make in favor of one with a bald eagle, the symbol of the United States, on it.

Looking Back

The story in this book is partly based on a real plot intended to explode the US warship the General Pike. Sackets Harbor was America's main base for naval warfare, and full of activity during the War of 1812. Spies were common on both sides of the war, and women were surprisingly popular as spies, especially for the British: a captured female spy would be searched less thoroughly and receive a lighter sentence than a male spy. Some people fought for British or the Americans despite being citizens of the opposite country, because they believed more in the ideals of  that country. Many African-Americans, especially escaped slaves, crossed the border to Canada, some out of loyalty to Britain but some to escape the threat of being recaptured and sent back into slavery--Canada and the rest of the British empire had outlawed slavery. Others fought for the United States, especially if they had never been a slave--notable because they didn't have voting rights or other civil rights until decades after the war. 


This book is dedicated to "Peg, in  honor of fifteen shared adventures."

There's a bit with Inkpot sitting on a pile of fabric intended for the quilt Caroline and Rhonda are sewing. Having two cats here, I can attest that it's an accurate scene. The younger especially loves walking on fabric when I'm trying to measure it for cutting.

There's also a really nice scene with Hosea helping Caroline, frustrated with the war, sew a stitch on a sail. He proclaims that when the schooner sets out on Lake Ontario, she can remember that she helped make it.


Changes for Caroline

Published in 2012; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrators Lisa and Robert Papps (they're married)


Caroline's been so happy enjoying her father's company the last few weeks. One morning during breakfast there's a knock at the door. Her aunt and uncle's neighbor is delivering a letter, explaining that her aunt has gone to care for her gravely ill sister, and they need help on the farm. They have no money to hire anyone, having spent their savings on the new farm, so they're asking for Caroline. The neighbor can take her back in an hour. Caroline knows she has to go, but it's so hard to leave her father and the rest of her family. 

At the farm, Caroline is put to work right away. Not much land is cleared yet, so Uncle Aaron is busy in the fields. Lydia takes care of milking the cow, and Caroline is to care for the calf, who's old enough to start eating grass. The girls will split the other chores, and must also watch out for thieves. Farmwork and housework keep them busy, but they're able to enjoy each other's company the whole time. While tending the vegetable patch, Caroline sees that someone's stolen some asparagus. Her uncle decides he needs to try to stay up late and keep watch--the plants they need for food are bad enough to lose, the cow and her calf would be worse. Caroline and Lydia help keep watch, but Uncle Aaron does most of it. 

The next morning there's some good news: three radishes are ripe! Lydia and her father haven't had much variety in their diet, just dried beans and peas mostly. But when Uncle Aaron takes a drink of milk, he nearly spits it back out again. It turns out that when Caroline was breaking the cow to follow on a lead, she lead her into a patch of wild leeks, which have turned her milk sour. The taste will last for a couple days, meaning that Lydia won't be able to make butter to sell or trade. Caroline feels awful, even though her uncle and cousin laugh it off. She does her chores quickly--finding a loose board in the garden fence with a suspicious bit of red clothing caught on the edge--and gets a couple fish in the nearby stream to make up for ruining the milk. Together with some dandelion greens and cornbread, they make a better dinner than her relatives have had in a while. 

The next day, Lydia and Uncle Aaron have to go to neighbor's farm to help with a wheat harvest. They'll get some hay for the cows in return. Wary of the thief, they leave Caroline to watch the farm. While she's leading the cows to get them used it, she sees someone in a bright red shirt. She takes the cows deeper into the woods, to hide them in the springhouse, which is overgrown and has likely gone unnoticed by the thief. Carefully she goes back to the farmyard. The thief is in the vegetable patch. He runs off quickly, and Caroline gives chase. When she catches up to him, she sees that he's only a couple years older than she is. He confesses to stealing, but explains he felt he had no choice. He father, a military man, was killed in the Battle of Sackets Harbor. With her connection to the military gone, her mother couldn't follow the regiment anymore, putting her out of the job of laundering the uniforms. His little sisters and his mother are starving, and they've only been able to find little bits of food in the woods. Caroline offers to find some food for them. She explains that the milk is off, but the boy insists his sisters won't care. Indeed, they gratefully drain their cups. Caroline gives the mother what little she thought her relatives could spare, and promises to help more before returning to the farm.

When her uncle and cousin return, she tells them about the family. Uncle Aaron set out for them straight away and brings them back to the farm. They work out a deal for them to help with the chores in exchange for food, at least until the family gets back on its feet. Uncle Aaron praises Caroline for thinking quickly to save the cows, and for helping a desperate family. And with them doing some chores, Caroline can return to Sacketts Harbor. She's thrilled to be able to spend Independence Day at home. 

During the Fourth of July celebrations, Caroline's father has a surprise for her. He and Mr. Tate salvaged the boat Caroline sank when Irish Jack was coming, and restored it. Her father has realized how much Caroline has grown up, and decided that she's ready for a small boat of her own. He's even renamed it: the Miss Caroline.  

Looking Back

The War of 1812 officially ended in December 1814, but because of how slowly news traveled, one of the most famous battles of the war took place the following January, the Battle of New Orleans. The Americans won, but they already had anyway--sort of. Some people call the War of 1812 the war that no one won. The treaty had both the US and Britain give back all the land they'd seized from each other. Both sides also suffered heavy casualties, including civilians. However, the US didn't fall back under British control, so I think it could be called a victory if that was indeed a threat, albeit a costly victory. During the war, a shipping blockade prevented goods from being sent to the US. This forced the young country to rely on itself more, producing more and more of its own goods. It also showed the world that the US wasn't going to just roll over and give up if another, more-established country confronted it.


This book is dedicated to "my friends at American Girl, past and present, who have helped make each book the best it can be."


Caroline's Battle

Published in 2012; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrators Lisa and Robert Papps (they're married)


Caroline's father has only just gotten home when a militiaman rides through town announcing that the British are attacking. There's no wind at the moment, so there's at least some time to gather people to defend Sackets Harbor--important because the Navy men are patrolling far away. Caroline's father volunteers to help, after securing a promise that his family will stay safe. The Hathaways pack immediately, as Mrs. Hathaway's husband gave her strict instruction to head inland if a battle were imminent. They'll stay with some friends on a farm a ways away, and offer for the Abbott women to come along. Mrs. Abbott politely refuses, saying she needs to stay to protect her property. Caroline's grandmother says they can stay safe in the cellar, and adds that they'll await the Hathaway's return when everything calms down.

Once Caroline's father leaves, her mother gets ready to head to the shipyard. Caroline is surprised. Her father had specifically said to leave defending the shipyard to the workers. But her mother explains that she's only retrieving the ship plans and other things so the British can't find them. Caroline helps her carry things back home, where her grandmother says she can take it from here; she's had experience hiding things from the British. Caroline and her mother go back to the shipyard just in time to see the workers being summoned to defend the naval shipyard, leaving the pair alone.

Caroline's mother packs up the last of the documents and sends Caroline home. She'll be staying at the shipyard, not willing to leave it defenseless. Caroline's grandmother remarks that it could a long time that her mother is alone there, and asks Caroline to make one more trip, to deliver food and blankets to her mother. Her grandmother sets a hearty meal before Caroline, and packs a basket for Caroline's mother (her daughter). When Caroline is done eating, the basket is full. Her grandmother lifts some of the food to show Caroline that a pistol is nestled at the bottom of the basket, strictly instructing Caroline to get the basket into her mother's hands. She also tells Caroline that she's lived through battles before and can do so alone, if Caroline feels it's right to stay with her mother. Nervous but determined, Caroline heads out once more for the shipyard.

At the shipyard, time passes slowly. Caroline almost wishes the wind would pick up so she wouldn't have to wait and wonder. After a while, a soldier comes by. He tells Mrs. Abbott that if the British start to overtake Sackets Harbor, they need to destroy any supplies that could aid the British. That means burning the shipyard. Caroline can't believe it, but her mother resolutely agrees. It's the lesser of two evils. Together, Caroline and her mother start a bonfire in case they need it, and pile wood shavings against the buildings, to act as kindling. They take turns watching through the night. At one point, Caroline sees a shadowy figure. She wakes her mother, who warns whoever it is that she's armed. A voice calls out that two soldiers are looking for a dry place to sleep, but Caroline's mother cuts the voice off and fires into the air. They scurry away, and she explains to Caroline that if the soldier are Americans, they've deserted their posts, and if they're British, it was a ruse. 

Cannon fire announces dawn. The British fleet has landed near town. Caroline's mother goes up to the room where the sails are made to watch for the signal to burn the shipyard. Shots ring out all around. Some American soldiers run past, telling Caroline that they're retreating. Caroline's mother sees the naval storehouses lit on fire, the signal that the British have won. She alerts Caroline, who gets a torch to start burning buildings, and heads to the gunboat to destroy that. Caroline lights up the empty building that used to hold the boat she had to sink. Just as Caroline is lighting another pile of wood shavings, the soldier who first instructed the Abbotts might need to burn everything runs in. He tells them to stop, that the British are retreating and the storehouses were set fire by mistake. He helps her douse the flames. Caroline's mother heard just in time to avoid damaging the gunboat.

The battle is over, but Caroline and her mother stay for a time. Some of the militiamen are rowdy, and they want to see how the workers are. Mr. Tate eventually shows up, along with some others. Some have cuts and bruises, but all the workers are safe. Caroline's father comes shortly after, and is impressed with the resolve his wife and daughter showed--and happy they didn't need to follow through with destroying the shipyard. 

Two weeks later, the gunboat is finished (it took about a year). The Abbotts and the Hathaways, including Rhonda's father, are on hand to watch it launch. Caroline feels a swell of pride seeing it in the water. She helped defend that boat, and now it's going to defend America. 

Looking Back

The historical section is about the Battle of Sackets Harbor, a real event that took place in late May 1813. The British were defeated then, but other cities fared worse. Washington, D.C. itself was ransacked, the White House was burned to the ground. First Lady Dolly Madison rescued many historical artifacts before leaving it. It was a very demoralizing defeat, but the US wasn't ready to give up independence after not even four decades. One battle over Baltimore Harbor inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner," when a captured Francis Scott Key saw a gigantic American flag sewn by Mary Pickersgill, her daughter, nieces, and servant. It was waving over the harbor, showing that despite the brutal assault, the Americans had held the land. He wrote the famous poem which was later set to music, and declared the national anthem in 1931. The giant flag--thirty feet by forty-two feet--is in the Smithsonian.


This book is dedicated to "Constance Barone, Dianne Graves, James Spurr, and Stephen Wallace; and for everyone who has worked to preserve and interpret Sackets Harbor's rich heritage, with thanks."

Caroline's grandmother sends the pistol unloaded, with the ammunition separate. Smart woman.Caroline has never handled a firearm, and it's bouncing around in the basket, so that was definitely a safe move.


Caroline Takes a Chance

Published in 2012; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrators Lisa and Robert Papps (they're married)


It's finally a warm spring day in May, and the ice has melted from Lake Ontario. Supply ships can come in to port now, especially needed this year because the shipyard is running low on supplies for the gunboat. A supply boat will bring food, too. Everyone is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Irish Jack, wondering if his ship has been captured. Itching to do something, Caroline gets permission to go fishing with Rhonda and Seth. While they're out, they see Irish Jack's supply ship! It's moving very fast, with every man at an oar. A British ship is giving chase. Irish Jack heads for the creek Caroline and her friends are fishing at the mouth of, clearly reasoning that their high-riding boat can navigate the shallow waters. The British boat is intent on following though, counting on the higher-than-usual creek to be deep long enough to intercept the supplies. Thinking quickly, Caroline suggests they move some fallen trees and large limbs to block the creek. They grab what they can, wading in the cold water, but it's not enough. Desperate, Caroline realizes they need to sink their little fishing boat if they're going to keep Irish Jack safe from the British. They drag it as close to the mouth of the creek as they can, and Seth chops a hole in the bottom with his ax. Seeing the blockage, the British ship turns back.

The supplies will make it to Sackets Harbor, but how will Caroline and her friends? As they're trying to figure out how long it will take to walk back, Irish Jack appears, grateful and impressed. He gets them some blankets and takes them home. Caroline is happy the supplies were saved, and the men carrying them, but she feels incredibly guilty for destroying the boat her father made. She wonders if he would be angry with her for it, and if she'll ever get a chance to ask him. 

The victory that Caroline, Seth, and Rhonda scored over the British has cemented a decision in Seth's mind: he's going to join the Navy. He has one set of mail to deliver and then his obligation to his employer is done. Caroline offers to make the trip for him, so that he can enlist one day sooner. She's walked the route with him before and knows the way. Caroline delivers all the letters before noon, and as she eats lunch she notices she's near her father's favorite fishing place. Desperate for a connection to her father, Caroline sets out for it, despite her mother's instruction to come straight home. She reasons that if she hurries her mother will never know about the detour. She reaches the site after a run-in with someone in the woods (from whom she flees, unsure who to trust). Seeing the familiar area is soothing. Then she hears a low moaning sound. There's a man in the little shelter her father built. Unsure if it's safe to approach him, Caroline decides to leave and tell the nearest farm about him. But something makes her go closer. The man is her father!

He's thin and ill, burning with fever. Caroline gets some willow bark and makes the tea she's seen her grandmother serve so many times. He sips it slowly, and she gives her what's left of her food as well. He falls into a deep sleep as night sets in. In the morning, he's stronger and tells her how he escaped from the British when they tried to move him to Halifax in the late fall, by knocking out a drunk guard and jumping out of a boat. He broke his leg getting to shore, but an Oneida tribe was nearby and helped him. He spent the winter with them, and set out for home when his leg was strong enough (although the break didn't heal straight). He used Caroline's embroidered map for guidance along the way, but by the time he reached his fishing site, he was too sick and weak to go further. After another day and night of recovering, they strike out for Sackets Harbor. Caroline tells him what's gone on at home since he was captured, ending with the story of sinking the boat. He understands why she sunk it (of course) and is proud of her for thwarting the British.

It's slow going on the way home, with Caroline's father limping and using a crutch. A little after nightfall, they're finally almost home. Caroline hears her mother calling for her. She helps her weak father lean against a tree and runs to her mother, who is overjoyed to see her daughter alive--and then confused when Caroline says "We need help." Caroline's mother can hardly believe her eyes when she sees her husband. Finally together, the family goes home. 

Looking Back

Traveling around the frontier was difficult and dangerous in 1812. Going by water was actually the fastest and most comfortable and often safest, especially for long distances. Because they lived so far from other people, settlers on the frontier often had to do without doctors, schools, or other now-commonplace things. Mail was irregular too, and getting some was a huge event. Because they were so cut off, frontier settlers had to be self-reliant, knowing their way around their areas and how to use medicinal plants.


This book is dedicated to "Scott and Meghan, for their faith and support."

Amelia takes a nap. What's with all these four-year-olds who nap? Where do I get one of those?

Caroline's mother makes Seth a lunch the morning he sets out to enlist (he doesn't have any family and the Abbotts have always considered him welcome in their home). Rumor has it that Navy food isn't very good. Today the Navy is said to have great food relative to the other US military branches. An Army cadence I know goes "GI food, GI gravy....gee, I wish I joined the Navy."

I've never read this before and was genuinely surprised that the man in the shelter was Caroline's father.


A Surprise for Caroline

Published in 2012; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrators Lisa and Robert Papps (they're married)


As Christmas approaches, Caroline, Lydia, and Rhonda are busy making gifts (Lydia and her parents are staying at the Abbott house as well). The three girls are going to make a fancy doll with handmade clothes for Amelia, who has no one her age to play with and no toys. Caroline has also secretly sewn a warm muff for Lydia, but can't think of anything for fashionable Rhonda. Caroline enjoys the closeness she feels to the two older girls when they're working on the gift, but too many other times she notices the two-year age gap: during school lessons with Caroline's mother (Sackets Harbor has no school), when they'd rather experiment with new hairstyles than play, and so on. Caroline confides her frustrations to her grandmother, who encourages Caroline to not give up being friends with Lydia and Rhonda. While helping her mother at the shipyard, Caroline thinks that if she gives Rhonda ice skates she can teach her to skate, and the three girls can have fun on the frozen lake. Two shipyard workers agree to help and they make a beautiful set of skates. Rhonda politely thanks Caroline for the gift, but Caroline can see that she's disappointed and feels terrible about it.
Still, Caroline and Lydia are able to convince Rhonda to try ice skating again--the only other time she'd tried, she fell a lot, but with two experienced skaters her chances of success are better. But she has a nasty fall and swears off ice skating for good. Caroline feels more awful than she did before. That night, she has another idea when Rhonda reminisces about racing hoops back home in Albany. The snow should be hard-packed enough in some places to do that tomorrow! Rhonda and Lydia both seem intrigued by this new and less-fall-inducing idea, and agree to try it in the morning with some old wheel rims. 
She's able to borrow two  from the shipyard, and takes the rim off her grandmother's spinning wheel for the third--without asking. The girls have fun at first, finding ways to keep score and they roll the hoops down a hill. But Caroline sends her grandmother's piece spinning wildly, and the wind catches it, taking it over the frozen lake. Lydia and Rhonda scold Caroline for taking it without asking when she confesses the fact, and tell her it's too dangerous to go after, as the ice further from shore might not be thick enough. But Caroline is determined to get the hoop back, and sick of being told what to do, and stubbornly sets out. The older girls can't let her go alone. As they walk gingerly across the ice, Caroline spies the hoop, too far out to be safely retrieved. But she heads for it anyway, reasoning that she must be light enough to not break the ice. Finally, she grabs the hoop.
And then the ice breaks, and she finds herself stranded on a chunk of ice, floating in the water. Thinking quickly, Rhonda extends a long branch toward Caroline so she can hold it and not drift away. Rhonda finds a long board and slides it over to make a bridge. Carefully, Caroline walks across to safety. She has to leave the hoop behind on the ice. She apologizes to the older girls, admitting she ignored their warnings because of how they always act so much older and more experienced, and never want to do things together. They point out that Caroline is always invited to do things with them, but dismisses them as silly. Rhonda even brings up the point that the skates weren't a gift for her, they were a gift for Caroline. Caroline sees this, and apologizes again, for everything.
At home, Caroline confesses the whole ordeal to her grandmother, who scolds her gently about making rash decisions based on hurt feelings. Caroline still wants to go do fun things outside, but she realizes she shouldn't force people to do things they don't want to or aren't comfortable with. She finds Amelia (who adores her doll, by the way) and offers to take her sledding down some smaller hills. Amelia can hardly believe that she's being included in something, and happily accepts. Caroline is happy too, to have found someone to share some small adventures with. On New Year's Day, Lydia suggests she and Caroline go ice skating, and Caroline invites Amelia along, to teach her to skate. The three are having fun on the ice when Rhonda shows up. She's had a little ice sled built, and is pushing Caroline's grandmother! By holding the sled to push it, Rhonda has enough stability to feel safe on the ice, and Caroline's grandmother can enjoying the speed of skating while still keeping her aching joints warm in a blanket. It's the perfect solution. Not a perfect day because Caroline's father is either still a prisoner or hiding in the cold trying to escape back home, but all things considered, a good day.

Looking Back

Children growing up in the early 1800s learned life skills early. From a young age, they assisted their parents in housekeeping and in the family business, whether it be farming or glassblowing. Even leisure activities like Caroline's embroidery were designed to teach things--many embroidered samplers included Bible verses or adages to live by, and incorporated a variety of stitches that were useful to know. Celebrations were usually low-key, consisting of perhaps a special meal and maybe a few gifts if the occasion warranted it. Christmas wasn't much celebrated in the US at that time. Many Americans of British descent knew it as a secular holiday that often ended up rather raucous ("We Wish You a Merry Christmas" describes wassailing in one of its verses; essentially demanding food and drink from different houses when caroling--closer to Halloween trick-or-treating than Christmas) and it wasn't celebrated in most non-Catholic churches (Christmas started out as a minor feast but grew in prominence in response to the Gnostic heresy of the second century AD, that Jesus was only God and not human). It wasn't until the 1830s that some states declared it a holiday, and it wasn't a federal--or overly religious--holiday until later.


This book is dedicated to "Barbara, who traveled to historic sites with me, and to Stephanie, who went to work with me."

I guess Caroline made another embroidery piece for her father, because on Christmas day she looks at what should be his present.

The Looking Back part mentions a sampler made by a Polly Polk of Maryland who embroidered, "Polly Polk did this and she hated every stitch she did in it. She loves to read much more." I like Polly!


Caroline's Secret Message

Published in 2012; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrators Lisa and Robert Papps (they're married)


It's October. As Caroline is bringing in the harvest, she sees a skinny young man walking toward the farm. It's Oliver! The British have set him free (by sticking him on a boat near a deserted part of the American shore of Lake Ontario) but are still holding her father. They found out that he's a master shipbuilder and don't want him helping the Americans. They tried to have him build ships for the British, but he refused. Caroline is happy her cousin is free, but if the British are that worried about her father's skills, he might be held prisoner the entire war, which could last years. Oliver continues that her father is going to be sent east to Halifax soon, and that might be his chance to escape. Caroline's mother immediately makes plans to sail across Lake Ontario, but she'll need someone to come along and help steer her small boat in case of storms. Caroline's (and Oliver's) grandmother won't let Oliver risk capture again, especially when he won't be going home anyway--he wants to join the US Navy. Seth, the messenger, offers to go, but Mrs. Abbott refuses to put him at such a risk when he already crosses the border often to deliver mail. Caroline volunteers, and while Mrs. Abbott is nervous about the idea, Caroline is the best choice.

Caroline and her mother do worry about leaving the grandmother behind, though. Her arthritis flares up more in cold weather, and will make keeping house difficult. Fortunately, a woman and her two young daughters come to the door that very evening, looking for shelter. The woman's husband is in the military. They've followed him to Sackets Harbor, and she and her girls need a place to stay. There's plenty of room at the Abbott house, and they can help Caroline's grandmother. One daughter is only four, Amelia, but Rhonda Hathway is twelve, just a little older than Caroline. She and Caroline don't really mesh well, each making careless comments about the other (like Rhonda commenting that it must be nice her family's so close to Mr. Tate so he can take her father's place). They end up purposely exchanging harsh words before long. The next morning, Caroline and her mother set out for Canada.

They make it safely to Caroline's aunt and uncle's house (Lydia and Oliver's parents). Her uncle insists they hide their boat right away. All adult men in Canada could be pressed into service at any time, and the family is desperately trying to build a boat to get across the St. Lawrence River to the US before that happens. If any of their British-supporting neighbors find out, Caroline's aunt and uncle could be arrested as traitors, and possibly even hanged for it. Hearing about old family friends taking sides in the war makes Caroline and her mother realize that if her father escapes, he won't be able to trust just anyone as he makes his way back to the US--and he has no way of knowing who to trust nor where the British are patrolling. But Caroline has an idea. She brought her embroidery to keep herself calm, and she's nearly finished a map of Lake Ontario and its shoreline. She can mark the unsafe areas for her father. The trick now will be getting it to him.

When Caroline and her mother arrive at the British post, Mrs. Abbott politely but very firmly insists she be allowed to talk with the man in charge about her husband's being held illegally. They're taken to meet with a Major Humphries, who will only say that Mr. Abbott is alive and healthy. He won't allow Mrs. Abbott to visit him because she might be trying to smuggle something to him, much less entertain the notion of setting him free. Caroline speaks up that she hasn't seen her father in four months, imploring the man to think of his own children. Major Humphries softens a bit, having daughters of his own, and allows only Caroline a short visit. 

The guards search Caroline's things thoroughly, even breaking apart some cakes her grandmother had made to be sure nothing's hidden inside. She's given ten minutes with her father. As she goes to his cell, a guard whispers almost imperceptibly, "Your father misses you."

The moment Caroline sees her father, she flies into his arms, hugging him fiercely. The guard coughs pointedly, reminding the pair of the brief window of time they have. He stays in the room the whole time, making it difficult for Caroline to explain the significance of her embroidery. Caroline tells her father a story about raccoons getting into the neighbor's soap, while pointing to the markings on the map and mouthing "NOT SAFE." Too soon, time is up and she has to say goodbye to her father. As he leaves, he thanks her for the things she brought, glancing pointedly at the embroidered map.

Back at home, Caroline finds herself irked more and more by Rhonda. It seems she's making herself right at home, even to the point that Inkpot happily sits on Rhonda's lap. And her father visits often, forcing Caroline to think about her father's absence more and more. But Caroline's  mother points out that Rhonda is not purposely rubbing anything in Caroline's face, and that she's lonely too, in a new city where she's never been before. The two make up after a couple weeks, admitting they both felt jealous of the other, and start on their way to becoming friends. But Caroline's birthday (October 22) comes with no word from her father. Caroline's aunt and uncle and Lydia are safely in the US, at least. They bring with them a pretty little box perfect for holding her embroidery thread, decorated with different colored straw. It's from her father! Caroline had seen that he passed the time by making little things out of bits of material. One of the guards--perhaps the one who whispered to her--must have secretly left it at her aunt and uncle's. Caroline is overwhelmed with how nice everyone, even an enemy soldier, has been to her that feels guilty for having fun while her father's in prison. Her grandmother reassures her that her father wouldn't want her miserable, and enjoying a nice time doesn't take away from her hope that her father will return safely.

Looking Back

The historical section is about the effects of war on civilians living near or in battle zones. Apparently US troops violated the Third Amendment, because it mentions soldiers taking over homes. And from what I found in other sources, the Third Amendment was violated in the Civil War as well. Back to 1812. Civilians were usually busy running households and businesses, especially with men fighting, captured, and killed. When they did have free time, they often tried to stay busy with needlework or other such ventures. Sitting idle meant too much time to think about the war. Similarly, prisoners of war made little crafts with bits of straw or wood or whatever they could find, to pass the time.


This book is dedicated to "my parents, who filled our home with books." (Good parents!)

Rhonda gives Caroline some lace she made for a birthday present, to go on the new dress Caroline sewed. Caroline also gets a promise of a knot-tying lesson from Mr. Tate (specifically to make a cover for the water jug in her father's office), embroidery scissors from her mother, and a biscuit cutter from her grandmother.

At first I thought the box meant Caroline's father had escaped and left it himself.