Archive for the ‘Caroline Abbott books’ Category

Farewell Caroline

May 5, 2015

American Girl has announced that Caroline Abbott, the 1812 character I created, will be archived.

While I am, of course, disappointed with the decision to retire Caroline, I am grateful to have amazing and wonderful memories.

The Caroline books led me to many historic sites in the United States and Canada. Visiting Sackets Harbor, New York, has been extra special because it is Caroline’s home town.

Kathleen Ernst at Sackets Harbor NY

I’ve also visited American Girl stores from coast to coast. The store associates are consistently awesome.

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But the very best part of the experience has been meeting, and hearing from, so many incredible girls (and boys) and their families. I’ve had the privilege of meeting hundreds of young readers who are smart, kind, and excited about reading and history.

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From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

 

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When American Girl shares more details about their plans, I’ll pass them on.

I do have several Caroline programs on my schedule, including my final visit to Sackets Harbor in July! As always, you can find details on the Calendar page of my website.

Caroline’s Quilt – Part 2

March 24, 2015

It took a long time to piece or appliqué a quilt in Caroline’s day.  In Traitor in the Shipyard, friends help Caroline and Rhonda complete a beautiful quilt top. In the new Caroline mystery, The Smuggler’s Secrets, Caroline presents the quilt top to her cousin Lydia:

“Oh, thank you, Caroline.” Lydia’s eyes were shining. “Sometimes this little cabin feels quite dreary. Now I have something cheerful to look at every single day.”

But the quilt itself was not complete. A quilt is like a sandwich, and the pieced quilt top was the top slice of bread.  Caroline and Lydia also needed a bottom slice of bread, which was often plain cloth.

In places with cold winters, the middle layer was usually made of wool. In the spring, farmers sheared their sheep.  It was a lot of work to clean the wool, pick out snarls, and comb out the fibers.

Maria-Wilk-Girl-Carding-Wool

This 1883 painting shows a girl combing wool to remove tangles and get all the fibers running in the same direction. (Girl Carding Wool, by Maria Wilk)

Once enough wool had been cleaned and combed, the layers of the quilt could be put together. Women spread the bottom layer on a big wooden frame, arranged the combed wool, and then carefully put the pretty quilt top in place.

Then the three layers needed to be stitched together. These are called quilting stitches.

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The women who made this quilt stitched straight lines through the blue and white blocks, but added a pretty quilted pattern in the open areas.

The frame was propped up at a height that was comfortable for women to sit and sew.

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A Quilting Party, by Enoch Wood Perry, 1876.

A lot of stitches were needed to hold the layers together. In Caroline’s day, girls and women often invited friends to quilting bees. The work went faster, and everyone enjoyed catching up on the news while they sewed.

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Quilting Bee, by Henry Mosler. It was painted about 1890, but shows an earlier time.

With luck and hard work, the quilting might be completed in a day. In the 1813 painting below, the woman on the left is removing a quilt from a quilting frame, and it looks as if a party is going to begin.

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The Quilting Frolic, by John Lewis Krimmel.

Quilting bees aren’t as common as they were two hundred years ago, but  they still sometimes take place. The photo below was taken at my house in 1983, when I worked at Old World Wisconsin. My friends and I had pieced a quilt top at the historic site, but the season ended before we had a chance to finish it. It was fun, and the finished quilt was beautiful.

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Whenever I see an old quilt, I wonder about the girls and/or women who made it. I know it took a lot of hours to complete, but I hope they also took joy in producing something both useful and beautiful.

Caroline’s Quilt – Part 1

March 16, 2015

In my first Caroline mystery, Traitor in the Shipyard, Caroline and her friend Rhonda decide to make a quilt as a gift for Lydia, Caroline’s cousin. Their first task was to choose a design for their quilt.

Many quilt tops were pieced together. Girls and women cut pieces of cloth and stitched them together to create colorful designs.

SHSW doll quilt

This sweet doll quilt is made of Nine Patch blocks. After the maker created nine blocks, she sewed the blocks together. (Wisconsin Historical Society 1951.2359)

Other quilt makers used a technique called appliqué to create pictures from fabric.

1847 grandrapidspublic mus det

This design was one of many appliquéd pictures made on an album quilt in 1847. Wouldn’t Caroline love the ship design? (Grand Rapids Public Museum Collection,  2006.8.1)

Some quilts from Caroline’s time include both pieced blocks and a central picture. Caroline and Rhonda decided to use this approach.

1811 hewson cincinnati art museum

This quilt, made in 1811, includes pieced blocks and a floral design in the center. (Cincinnati Art Museum Collection)

Caroline and Rhonda also wanted their quilt to show their patriotic spirit. If you made a quilt to show your patriotic spirit, what would it look like?

Brown-Francis Family’s Patriotic Quilt, believed to have been made some time between 1800 and 1820. (Smithsonian Collection, NMAH-78-9642)

Two hundred years ago, girls like Caroline made quilts to learn sewing skills and to create beautiful bed coverings. Piecing quilts also let women and girls use tiny scraps of fabric that might otherwise have been wasted. For someone like Lydia, living in a simple log cabin with no other decorations, a pretty quilt would have been a welcome gift!

It’s Up To You!

August 21, 2014

I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. When I was nine or ten, I decided that if reading books was so much fun, writing my own stories would be even better. In a few months my 30th title will be published!

Reading

That’s me, lost in a book.

People often ask if my editors at American Girl tell me what to write. No, they don’t. Although I work with a great team of people who help make each book the best it can be, I make up my own stories. I decide what my characters should do.

Peg Ross, my editor, spends a lot of time combing through my manuscripts to make sure the stories are clear.  We've worked on 15 books together!

Here’s Peg Ross, my editor, making notes on one of my manuscripts.

Until now, that is. Catch The Wind:  My Journey With Caroline offers many opportunities for you to decide what the characters should do!

Catch The Wind

Imagine yourself transported back to Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812. Would you want to leave at once, or would you stay a while? If you saw an enemy ship, would you give chase or go for help? If your best friend was going on a raid, would you tag along or decide it was too dangerous?

In Catch The Wind, you get to decide all of those things—and make lots more choices too. When you finish the book, you might even want to go back and see what happens if you make different choices.

Catch The Wind was the first Choose Your Own Adventure story I’ve ever written. I drew diagrams to help keep everything straight.

Catch The Wind diagram

Here’s one of my early diagrams. The numbers refer to different scenes.

Catch The Wind Outline

Here’s part of the graphic organizer my editor made to help us make sure the story flowed properly.

I loved having the opportunity to explore lots of plot ideas and possibilities. I was able to include some situations I didn’t have room to include in the original Caroline stories.

So settle down with the book, and settle in for an adventure that has lots of twists and turns. It’s all up to you!

Time Travel

August 5, 2014

I’ve been curious about the past ever since I was a little girl.

I can't remember if this was my first grade or second grade school photo.

I read lots of historical novels. When my family visited historic sites, I imagined myself living there long ago.

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That’s me, taking a carriage ride at Williamsburg, about 1965.

If you’ve read the original Caroline stories, have you ever wished you could actually meet her? When I was writing the first seven Caroline books, I often wished I could get a real peek at Sackets Harbor as it was during the War of 1812.

Well, that’s the idea that inspired American Girl to create a new kind of adventure for their historical characters.  Catch The Wind:  My Journey With Caroline is a story I wrote about a modern girl who travels back in time and meets Caroline!

Catch The Wind Can you imagine what it would be like to suddenly find yourself in Sackets Harbor, New York, after the war started? How would you feel? What questions would you ask? And after you made friends with Caroline, what kind of adventures would you have?

I had a lot of fun writing Catch The Wind.  I hope you have just as much fun reading it!

A New Look—and a New Book!—for Caroline

June 17, 2014

As some readers know, American Girl is giving the Caroline books, and books about their other historical characters, a new look.  Here’s the scoop.

A company spokesperson explains the update:  “Our new BeForever books feature our beloved historical characters in a new format designed to appeal to girls who like high adventure and contemporary fiction.”

The first six Caroline books will be repackaged as two longer volumes. Meet Caroline,  Caroline’s Secret Message, and A Surprise For Caroline will be presented  as Captain of the Ship:  A Caroline Classic.

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And Caroline Takes a Chance, Caroline’s Battle, and Changes for Caroline will be presented as Facing the Enemy:  A Caroline Classic.

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Those titles will be released on August 28.

On the same day, American Girl will release my brand new Caroline book!

Have you ever wished you could travel back in time and meet Caroline? A modern girl gets to do just that in Catch The Wind:  My Journey With Caroline.

Catch The Wind

What if you suddenly found yourself in Caroline’s world, right in the middle of the War of 1812? How would it feel to know your home is under attack—and how would you stay strong during such a scary time?

Join Caroline on adventures where the two of you could find ways to help the Americans win, confront a possible spy, or even plunge headfirst into ice-cold Lake Ontario! Your journey back in time can take whatever twists and turns you choose, as you select from a variety of exciting options in this multiple-ending story.

I’ll have lots more to share about Catch The Wind as the publication date draws closer. And as always, you can find information, photos, and behind-the-scenes news about the books on the American Girl page of my website. Happy reading!

 

Special Events for American Girl Fans

April 28, 2014

I’ve got some great events scheduled for American Girl fans in June, and I’d love to see you!

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June 6, American Girl Place, New York City

I’ll be meeting readers and signing books from 11 AM – 1 PM.

 

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June 7-8,  Sackets Harbor Battlefield Historic Site, Sackets Harbor, New York
I’ll be participating in a Lawn Party on June 7th, and leading a workshop for young writers on June 8. Come see Caroline’s home town!

Pre-registration is required. To register for either of these events: 315-646-3634; Constance.Barone@parks.ny.gov

Kathleen Ernst Sackets Harbor

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June 14, Fort McHenry National Monument, Baltimore, Maryland 
I’ll be participating in a special program, and signing books, from 10 AM – 12 PM. There will be other festivities as well. Come celebrate Flag Day at the site that inspired our national anthem!

Tickets are required. Visit the Friends of Fort McHenry site for more information.

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June 15, Riversdale House Museum, Riverdale Park, Maryland
I’ll be joining readers for a party at 1:30. Riversdale, a National Historic Landmark, was built between 1801-1807, and guided tours are available. I’m excited about visiting a beautiful home that was standing during Caroline’s time!

Registration by June 2 is required for the tea party. Call 301-864-0420.

 

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I’ll be visiting a handful of other American Girl stores this summer, so watch my calendar page for more information.  I hope to see you soon!

 

 

Brick Bake Ovens

March 12, 2014

After I posted instructions for making sourdough bread starter from scratch—just as Caroline Abbott might have done—several readers asked about the type of oven Caroline would have used.  She and Grandmother used a brick bake oven.

Women used these bake ovens for centuries.  While visiting historic sites that interpret the period, I talked with several interpreters about foodways during Caroline’s era.

Old fort Niagara Kitchen

This interpreter was cooking in a kitchen at Old Fort Niagara.

For anyone using a brick bake oven, building a fire inside the oven was the day’s first chore. It took hours to heat the bricks.

Old Fort Niagara Kitchen

Can you see the small oven door in the back of the fireplace?

The arrangement at Old Fort Niagara (shown above) made the best use of the fire itself. When the oven was hot enough, coals were raked into the hearth and could be used for other cooking.

Old Fort Niagara bread

These round loaves were probably baked directly on the bricks.

The interpreter at Fort George National Historic Site, in Ontario, had a slightly different arrangement (below). Her oven is off to the side, which meant she didn’t have to lean over the fire to tend the oven.

Fort George

The oven door is the dark shape on the right side of the photo. This was much safer, and more comfortable, than having the door behind the main cooking fire.

Fort George

Using a bake oven was a big job, so smaller things—like these small cakes (cookies)—could be baked on a griddle hanging over the fire.

I learned to use brick bake ovens in my own interpreter days at Old World Wisconsin. In the photo below, the oven door is open. When the oven was hot enough, I’d use a hoe-type tool to rake  the coals and ashes into a chamber below.  (In the photo, that opening is covered with the board below the oven door.)  Later I’d open the little floor-level door  below the oven and shovel the cold ashes out.

Old World Wisconsin Schottler

Old World Wisconsin Schottler Kathleen Ernst

That’s me, explaining the process to visitors.

I used the long-handled paddle leaning against the wall to the left of the oven to place the bread dough into the oven, and remove the finished loaves. The length of the pole gives you an idea of how big the oven is!

Experienced bakers knew how to get the most out of a hot oven. When the bread came out, smaller items such as coffeecakes went in.  When they were done, there just might be enough heat left to bake a pan or two of cookies.

This kitchen is at a farm restored to 1875, which has a modern cookstove. So why would someone still use a bake oven? Perhaps she needed a dozen loaves to feed a hungry farm crew, as we did the day this picture was taken.

Michael Douglass Schottler summerkitchen

All from a single baking.

It took some practice to get the hang of using a brick bake oven. But one taste of hot, crusty bread spread with homemade butter made it all worthwhile.

Baking Bread With Caroline

March 9, 2014

When I was a kid, I read about a girl in colonial times whose family had kept a crock of sourdough going from generation to generation. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of making bread with sourdough starter ever since.

Our great-great-grandmothers used sourdough starter to make bread rise in the days before commercial quick-rise yeasts were available. The starter nurtures naturally-occurring yeasts and bacteria.  This is the type of bread mentioned in Meet Caroline.

Meet Caroline:  An American GirlWant to give it a try? It’s a fun inter-generational project. Working with sourdough requires patience and practice, but the basic process is quite simple.

There are probably as many recipes for bread baked from homemade sourdough starter as there are bakers.  I’m sharing the process that has, after a fair amount of experimentation, worked for me.

Baking without commercial yeast means that the process takes a while. I make starter on a Saturday, tend it for a week, and bake the following weekend.

All you need to begin is flour and water.  Use a good-quality whole-grain flour. Flour which has been heavily processed might contain traces of chemicals that could kill the rise. For your first batch I suggest using distilled water for the same reason.  Once you’ve had success, you can try using tap water or other types of flour.

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 Day 1:
Stir 2 c. flour and 2 c. water together.

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I use my grandma’s mixing bowl.

Cover with a towel and let rest at in a warm spot—about 70 degrees is ideal. If it’s colder, the microorganisms will grow more slowly.

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My starter lives on the kitchen counter.

Days 2-5:
Stir 1/4 c. of flour and 1/4 c. water into the starter. Cover with a towel.

After a day or so you should see bubbles forming.  The starter will develop a pleasantly sour smell.  It should not change color; if it turns black or takes on a pinkish tinge, discard.

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Day 3.

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Day 5.

The starter should  get a little more active and frothy each day.  The yeast in the air and flour are happily consuming the flour’s natural sugar, and releasing carbon dioxide bubbles.

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The starter is about the consistency of pancake batter.

Day 6:
Remove 2 cups of starter and place in a clean bowl.  Stir in 4 cups of flour, 1-1/4 c. water, 2 t. salt, and 2 T. honey. (You can use sugar if you don’t have honey on hand.)  If the result is too sticky to knead, add more flour a little at a time, just until the mass holds together.

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Ready for phase 2.

Knead the dough on a counter or bread board until smooth, about 5-10 minutes.

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Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel, and set in a warm place. Let the dough rise for 8-12 hours. Give or take. I mix the dough right before going to bed and let it rest overnight.

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About two hours into the rise…

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…and after 12 hours. The glass bowl reveals all the action taking place in the dough.

Lightly grease a pie plate and gently place the risen dough in the center. You could use a cast iron skillet, too.

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The dough should feel puffy and active.

Cover with a damp towel and let rise 4-6 hours. Make several slashes about 1/2″ deep in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick tester emerges dry.

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A beautiful loaf!

After you’ve had success, you can experiment by using different types of flour and adding herbs, fruit, etc.

If you want to keep your starter going, spoon what was left in the original bowl into a clean container.  While a dry towel was necessary during the first week to allow wild yeast cells easy access, the starter now needs more protection to keep a crust from forming. Caroline might have used a crock with lid left a bit ajar.  You can  use a bowl covered with a plate.

If you’ve read Meet Caroline, you know that Caroline struggles to succeed at this bread-baking process:

Grandmother was teaching Caroline how to make bread, but somehow, Caroline never seemed able to mix in just the right amount of flour and water, or knead the dough to the perfect silky-smooth texture. Her loaves  turned out heavy and hard.

Like Caroline, I had a few failures on the way to a good loaf of sourdough bread. This is what happened when I didn’t give the dough enough time to rise.

sourdough mistake 1

Doorstop.

And this is what happened when I forgot to slash the top of the loaf.

sourdough mistake 2

Steam split the loaf along the sides.  It tasted OK, but didn’t look nice.

So don’t be discouraged if it takes you a couple of tries to produce a successful loaf of bread with homemade sourdough starter. The results are worth it!

sourdough bread slice

Still warm and spread with homemade apple butter – yum!

An 1812 Gunboat

January 20, 2014

When I began planning the Caroline Abbott books for American Girl, I quickly decided to make Caroline’s father a shipbuilder. The war in the Great Lakes was largely a naval war, and I wanted Caroline and her family to be part of it.

There was a large and well documented naval shipyard in Sackets Harbor, New York. Builders there worked on huge ships like the Oneida.

Although this photo was taken many years after Caroline's time, it clearly shows the natural harbor.  Caroline's Papa knew the harbor would make the perfect spot for a shipyard---and once the War of 1812 began, US Navy officers  knew that too.

This photo was taken many years after Caroline’s time.  The US Navy’s shipyard produced ships that towered over the village.

I squeezed the fictional Abbott’s Shipyard just down the shore from the naval yard in Sackets Harbor. It wouldn’t have made sense to have the men at Abbott’s also building enormous vessels. Instead, I decided that Caroline’s family shipyard would produce gunboats.

While writing the series, I studied pictures of gunboats. Recently, however, I got to see a real one! Part of one, anyway.

Fort Wellington Gunboat

That’s me looking at the remains. You can get a sense of the boat’s size.

A sunken British gunboat was discovered decades ago in a small inlet on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Only the bottom, or hull, remained. Over the years, shifting ice likely tore the upper wood away.

The location is about 30 miles from the eastern end of Lake Ontario. (Sackets Harbor, where Caroline lives, is very close to that eastern end of the lake.) Naval historians believe this boat was built during the War of 1812.

Parks Canada Underwater Archaeology Service raised the remains of the shipwreck in 1967. As you can imagine, it was tricky work!

gunboat.1966 fort wellington

The shipwreck being raised in the 1960s. Parks Canada photo.

The remains are now safely exhibited at Fort Wellington National Historic Site of Canada, which is a wonderful place to learn more about the War of 1812 in the area were the Caroline books are set.

Fort Wellington gunboat

Parks Canada Conservator Flora Davidson secures loose parts of the gunboat wreck at St Lawrence Islands National Park in Mallorytown in preparation for its move to Fort Wellington in Prescott, Ontario. Parks Canada photograph.

Gunboats were of vital importance on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. They were shallow boats designed to carry one or more guns that could fire on other ships or on targets along the shoreline. They were also used to carry supplies or troops. Gunboats had sails, but they also carried long oars called sweeps, which required six or eight men to row.

The gunboat at Fort Wellington is displayed in an exhibit that includes this marvelous painting, making it easy to imagine how it was originally used.

gunboat Fort Wellington

Exhibit artwork by David Kanietakeron and Peter Rindlisbacher.

gunboat fort wellington

And here’s a model of what this gunboat probably looked like.

You can compare the model and the painting with what’s left of the vessel.

fort wellington gunboat

fort wellington gunboat

Other exhibits tell different parts of the War of 1812 story, and helped me imagine life during Caroline Abbott’s time.

Fort Wellington

Jarvis Hanks was a young drummer boy from Vermont. Lavinia York was the wife of the sheriff of a border town in New York. Letters and other writings left by people who lived during the War of 1812 provide wonderful glimpses of the past.

Fort Wellington

Original nails, tools, and a man’s boot—just as Caroline might have seen them.

Fort Wellington

This exhibit painting suggests what a home in Prescott, Ontario (Upper Canada) might have looked like. (It reminded me of Caroline’s cousin Lydia’s farm in Upper Canada!) Prescott is right across the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg, New York.

After reading about and thinking about and imagining gunboats, it was exciting to see the bones of a real one on display! If you have a chance to explore Sackets Harbor, New York, I highly recommend a sidetrip to Fort Wellington National Historic Site in Prescott, Ontario.