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!

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