Posts Tagged ‘American Girl’

Kids’ Books Giveaway!

June 30, 2020

It’s time for a Giveaway!

As the author of over two dozen children’s books, I know how important it is today that young readers are able to travel to distant times and places — while staying safe at home. 

Three lucky people will each win my three History Mystery books, originally published by American Girl.

The randomly selected winners will receive signed and personalized, softcover copies of Betrayal at Cross Creek,  Trouble at Fort La Pointe, and Whistler in the Dark.

Enter now to win! Just leave a comment below by 11:59 PM (Central US time), this Wednesday, July 1, 2020. One entry per person, please.

The winners, randomly chosen from all entries here on my blog and on my Facebook Author page, will be announced the next day.

As a child, I spent countless hours lost in books (thanks, Mom and Dad).  It’s a privilege to share that joy with young readers now.  As these difficult times continue, I hope you all can escape into engrossing stories from time to time.  Stay well, and good luck!

Final Ten Book Tuesday Giveaway – Winners Announced!

February 17, 2015

Congratulations to Clara Martin and Karla Lawrence, winners in the Ten Book Tuesday Giveaway! (The other winners entered on my Facebook page.)

I will post another special Giveaway soon after my next book, The Smuggler’s Secrets:  A Caroline Mystery, is published at the end of the month.

* * *

In honor of my 31st book being published later this month, I’m thanking my wonderful readers by giving away 31 books!

Leave a comment here by midnight today, Tuesday February 17, to enter the third drawing.



Ten winners will each choose one of my titles and receive a signed, personalized copy. Winners will be chosen at random from entries here and on my Facebook page.  I’ll announce the winners tomorrow, so please check back then!

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!


June 6, American Girl Place, New York City

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




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;

Kathleen Ernst Sackets Harbor


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.

Fort McHenry NPS


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.



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!



Postcard From Angela

January 1, 2014

I received an amazingly wonderful gift a week or so ago when a postcard arrived in the mail.

postcard from angela

The postcard itself was from a copy of Midnight in Lonesome Hollow, one of my Kit mysteries from American Girl.

postcard Midnight

It was forwarded to me from the publisher. I’d really, really like to write back to Angela, and tell her how much her words mean to me. Unfortunately, no return address was included.

So this seems like a good time and place to tell Angela—and all the readers who got in touch during 2013—how appreciative I am.

Some of my favorite correspondence has come via email, such as this one:

Hi Mrs. Ernst my name is Abigail and I just wanted to wish you a
merry Christmas. My American girl dolls Kit and Caroline say
merry Christmas too.

Here are two letters that arrived in the mail after I did a program about the book-making process at an elementary school.


(I do try to encourage kids when I visit schools. I’m not sure about this one.)


(The program includes one photo of my cat Sophie sitting by my computer. Sophie sometimes gets more mail than I do.)

I’ve gotten some special mail from parents this year, such as this one:

My 8 year old daughter and I just finished the first book in your
American Girl Caroline series. We are both hooked and loving it!
She is having a difficult time keeping up with her peers in
reading and this book has sparked an interest in history, sailing,
nautical knots and everything that goes with the story. She could
not wait for the next night to read another chapter. And all this
coming from the girl last year who said reading was boring
(only because she wasn't able to do as well as her classmates).
Now she brings books with her everywhere we go.

And I’ve heard from readers about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, too:

I love the combination of mystery and history in your books!Please
keep this series coming!!!

I just wanted to tell you how MUCH I am enjoying "Chloe's" adventures!
Thanks for your gift of writing, Kathleen!

I've almost finished re-reading all the Chloe books. I'm telling you,
after I read Heritage of Darkness -- I really really really did not want
it to end so I started the whole series over :-)

When I was ten years old, and dreaming of being an author, all I knew to hope for was having stories that I wrote turn into published books. Although that is indeed wonderful, what’s even better connecting with readers.

So for all of you who have taken the time to communicate here, on Facebook, via email or snail mail, or in person at an event—all I can say is thank you.

And for all of you who have taken the time to post an online review, recommend one of my books to a friend, or ask a librarian about my titles—huge thanks to you as well.

Hardangar Heart600w

This lovely Hardanger heart was a gift from two special readers. It hangs in my kitchen window, and reminds me every day of the reader-friends who have come into my life!

You made 2013 very special! I’m grateful, and I wish you all a most wonderful new year.

Whistler In The Dark

May 18, 2013


Whistler in the Dark Cover

When I attended interpreter training at Old World Wisconsin in the spring of 1982, the Curator of Textiles showed us a photograph of a Wisconsin woman wearing trousers beneath a knee-length skirt. The image shows a woman in a farmyard, staring straight at the camera, with a man and child behind her.

I don’t have permission to post that photograph, but you can see it on the Society’s website HERE. The photo shows a woman who clearly was no stranger to hard physical work, and wasn’t afraid to dress appropriately.

I was fascinated by that image, and knew that one day I would write a story about the reform dress movement. I had an opportunity to do that with my second History Mystery, Whistler in the Dark.

When people think of 19th-century women wearing trousers, most think of Amelia Bloomer. She was one of the reformers who believed that women’s cumbersome fashions were both impractical and a symbol of women’s inequality.


The movement was prominent in the 1850s & 1860s. Because it was so controversial, many activists decided that women should work first to obtain the right to vote, and the dress reform movement faded.


The Reform Dress movement inspired more than one composer.

Many of the women who campaigned for dress reform were well educated urban dwellers. Reform movement leaders like Amelia Bloomer are often celebrated.

But other women quietly chose to wear trousers because their work or environment made pants not only more practical, but safer as well. I’ve read copies of The Sibyl, a 19th-century newspaper promoting dress reform, and found the letters to the editor particularly revealing.  Some of the correspondents wrote of wearing their Reform Dress while working on their farms, but only out of sight of neighbors.

The Bloomer Costume LC448w

Here are two clippings that reveal why some people thought women’s clothing style were in need of reform.


A snippet from The Sibyl, the newspaper devoted to Dress Reform.


From a memoir, Glimpses of an Earlier Milwaukee, by Bill Hooker.

But there was lots of opposition, too.


A cartoonist’s view of dress reform. Some women who dared wear their trousers in public did get pelted with tomatoes or eggs. (Punch, 1851)

Once I’d settled on a theme, I considered location. I knew I wanted my Dress Reformer, Emma’s Mother, to be a working woman. I set the book in Colorado because after the Civil War, opportunities for a newspaper editor like her would have been more likely in the West.

And I wanted to help readers think about all sides of the issue. Emma is not be an enthusiastic supporter of the Dress Reform movement. I also created other strong and, I hope, admirable women characters, such as Tildy and Miss Amaretta—each with their own ideas.

As always, doing research on location was an adventure. Twin Pines is a fictional town, but in my mind it is geographically and historically similar to Golden, Colorado.


Clear Creek History Park in Golden, Colorado.


This interpreter showed me the type of scales used to measure gold.

After visiting historic sites and museums, I also spent some time simply exploring the landscape, so I could get a sense of how Emma—a Chicago girl—might feel about her new home.


What a beautiful area to investigate!


The twin pines.


Can you imagine Emma climbing one of these trees in a long skirt?

Writing Whistler in the Dark let me think about the fascinating issue of Dress Reform, learn about women in the newspaper business, and go hiking in beautiful Colorado. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!


PS:  When Whistler in the Dark was published, my friend Joan Haight made me a Reform Dress to wear to events.


This was taken at American Girl Place in Chicago.

However, when the book was honored as a WILLA Award Finalist by Women Writing the West, I chose to wear more modern attire!


The Runaway Friend

April 13, 2013




After I started writing for American Girl, I always hoped that my editor would invite me to write a Kirsten book. The story of European immigrants moving to the Upper Midwest is very close to my heart.

In the spring of 1982, I moved to Wisconsin to take a job at a large historic site called Old World Wisconsin. This outdoor ethnic museum helps visitors gain insight into the lives of many ethnic groups which began settling here in the mid-1800s.

Author Kathleen Ernst 1982

Old World Wisconsin does not have any Swedish buildings, but a lot of the experiences I had there helped me appreciate Kirsten’s story. The photograph above shows me knitting in the doorway of the 1845  Fossebrekke cabin, home to Norwegian immigrants. I loved helping visitors imagine the challenges and rewards of leaving Europe and making a new home. So I went into the Kirsten project with a fair amount of knowledge about European immigrants coming from Scandinavia to the Upper Midwest.

I needed to focus in on Swedish immigrants to Minnesota in the 1850s. I began at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. The Society houses a museum, library, and archives (and a very nice cafe!) under one roof.


The Minnesota Historical Society.

I looked at exhibits, read old books and magazines, and studied old newspapers preserved on microfilm.  My best find was a huge collection of unpublished reminiscences about the pioneer era.  A lot of the details in The Runaway Friend came from those accounts.

I also visited the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. The museum located in this beautiful old mansion documents the Swedish-American community through photographs, diaries, and immigrant artifacts.

American Swedish Institute300w

The Institute is especially lovely when decorated for Christmas!

It was also important to visit the area where the first Swedish settlements in Minnesota were founded.  Kirsten’s family, arriving as they did in 1854, would have been among the earliest Swedish families to settle here.  I went in search of clues that might help me imagine her life!

The Chisago Lakes area, home to many of the early Swedish immigrants to Minnesota, is a short drive northeast of the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  Historical signs and markers helped me locate significant locations, such as Taylors Falls.


Can you imagine traveling up the river on a steamboat like the one pictured above?


It was easy to picture the landscape found by the early immigrants.


Stone walls still visible in a few yards in Taylors Falls were made by Swedish immigrants.


From the river, lucky immigrants may have traveled to their new homes by oxcart, such as the one pictured in the sign below, to their new home. Others, like Kirsten’s family, had to walk.

Scandia was the site of the first Swedish settlement in Minnesota. In 1850, the first log cabin was built there, on the shores of Hay Lake.  I knew I needed to visit Scandia!

I headed first to the local museum.  “Gammelgården” means “Old Farm” in Swedish. Here visitors can step back in history and experience the lives of early Swedish immigrants in the only open air museum devoted to Swedish immigration in the United States.


I had the chance to see a number of artifacts.  What can you learn by looking at these objects?


Swedish Artifact 300w

Swedish Trunks 300w

One of the guides kindly took a moment to show me this old sleigh.

Swedish Sleigh 300w

You’d want to wrap up in lots of cloaks and blankets before setting out in an open sleigh during a Minnesota winter!

A number of old buildings have been moved to Gammelgården.  On the day I was there, children were participating in the museum’s “Coming to Amerika” program.


It was fun to see the kids participating in activities that helped them imagine life as it would have been for Kirsten in the 1850s.

The next town I visited was Lindstrom, “America’s Little Sweden.”  I found lots of clues to Lindstrom’s cultural heritage just by walking down the main street!





A famous statue of a Swedish immigrant couple is in Lindstrom.


Why do you think the man and the woman might be looking in two different directions?

This statue depicts Karl Oskar and his wife Kristina, fictional characters in a famous novel called The Emigrants, by Wilhelm Moberg.  Karl Oskar is looking ahead to the future.  Kristina, always homesick for Sweden, is looking back over her shoulder.

Before leaving the area I visited Glader Cemetery.  It was moving to read some of the gravestones.  They told stories of real people who had lost loved ones, often children.  I can’t imagine how they must have felt.  The cemetery is on a beautiful spot, overlooking a lake, and I hope the natural beauty provided a little solace to those who buried family members there.



My last stop was at nearby Center City.  According to this sign, a Lutheran church was founded here in 1854. That tells me that faith was important to many of the early arrivals.


The original church—log, no doubt—was replaced in 1882 by a brick structure.


A memorial, with Swedish and English text, celebrates the church’s heritage.


The first Swedes to settle in Minnesota arrived over one hundred and fifty years ago! Still, it wasn’t hard to find evidence that helped me imagine their experience. I hope The Runaway Friend helps you imagine that time, too.

Midnight In Lonesome Hollow

March 31, 2013


Lonesome Hollow by Kathleen Ernster448w


I have always loved the southern Appalachian mountains. Although I’ve lived in Wisconsin for many years now, I went to college in West Virginia, spent many summers in western Maryland, and have enjoyed many hikes and rambles through the mountains in the southern states. My editor at American Girl knows that, so when she invited me to write a second Kit mystery, she suggested setting the book in Kentucky.  (My first Kit mystery, Danger at the Zoo, was set in Cinncinnati.)

In the original Kit books, readers meet Aunt Millie, who lives in the fictional community of Mountain Hollow, Kentucky. Setting the mystery in that region, during a visit Kit makes to Aunt Millie, opened up all kinds of new possibilities.

I did some preliminary reading about Eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression. Then I headed to Kentucky! I started at the Kentucky History Center.

KY History Center

Members of the Folklife Program staff showed me some of their collections, recommended people I should talk with, and suggested places to visit.

Then I visited the archives. The staff there helped me identify some wonderful audio tapes made in the 1960s. Elderly people were interviewed about their lives, and many of them talked about life in the mountains during the Great Depression. I learned a lot, and picked up some great details to use in the mystery.

After that, I was ready to go exploring! I stopped at a number of museums, libraries, and historic sites.


One of my favorite places was the Hensley Settlement, part of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.


The Hensley Settlement was established on top of Brush Mountain in 1904, and was occupied until 1951. I was able to tour the preserved buildings in this remote community. The park ranger who led the tour was great!

Park Ranger448w


I loved being able to walk into the Hensley Settlement School.

Whenever possible, I try to look at a variety of sources relating to a particular topic I’m researching. To learn more, I decided to look for old photographs.

When I got home from that trip, I searched for images of schools in the Kentucky mountains during the Great Depression.


This photo helped me further imagine the experience of students attending Aunt Millie’s fictional school. (LC-USF34-055720-D)

I was able to find many photographs taken in Eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression. Some of the photographers were hired by the government to document life in the mountains. All of the historic photographs on this page are part of the Farm Security Administration collection in the Library of Congress. They were taken by Marion Post Wolcott. The number beneath each photograph is its identification number.


Historical photographs help me describe things, such as these miners’ lamps…


Or the potted flowers on the porch, and the type of butter churn this woman is using.
(LC-USF34- 055754-D)

Portraits like these also help me imagine characters. Do these people remind you of anyone in Midnight in Lonesome Hollow?

Photographs also help me develop scenes. After seeing this one, I wrote about Kit and her friends using creek beds as paths in steep terrain.


These boys are walking home from school, carrying their lunch pails. (LC-USF33-031082-M2)


A mailman on horseback stops to deliver letters, packages, and news—just as Mr. Tibbets does in Midnight in Lonesome Hollow.
(LC-USF34- 055794-D)

The steep mountains in rural Kentucky provided lots of transportation challenges during Kit’s time.


These boys are using the most reliable method of getting from one place to another. (LC-USF34-056440-D)


People who brought cars into the mountains sometimes got into trouble! These men needed the mule to pull the car from the creek. (LC-USF34-055695-D)

The photograph below was labeled “Mountain woman with groceries and supplies resting by the roadside.” During the 1930s and 1940s, people were switching from using home-made items to store-bought ones.


Although this woman brought some sacks to carry her supplies, she still carried one beautiful basket as well.

You can find more photographs by visiting the Prints and Photographs section of the Library of Congress website. Perhaps you’ll find photographs taken during the Great Depression in your area!

PS:  My visit to the Hensley Settlement in Cumberland Gap National Park on that gorgeous autumn day inspired me to write several poems.  One of them, “Inarticulate, 1908,” was published in a journal called Appalachian Heritage.  That was my first published poem!

Caroline’s Winter Fun

January 31, 2013

Do you like winter? Caroline Abbott does. I do too, which made the third book of the Caroline series, A Surprise For Caroline, a lot of fun to write.

A Surprise For Caroline by Kathleen Ernst

Isn’t this cover gorgeous?  I love the way illustrator Robert Papp captured the winter landscape.

When the book opens, Caroline is facing a new challenge. Two other girls are staying in the Abbott home: Lydia, Caroline’s cousin; and Rhonda, the daughter of an army officer stationed in Sackets Harbor. Caroline has no trouble getting along with either girl, but when all three of them are together, things get tricky.

Caroline Abbott display, American Girl Store - Chicago

Caroline’s skates would have looked much like these exhibited at the American Girl store in Chicago.

Caroline dearly loves to skate, especially the feeling of gliding effortlessly over the ice. She also has a cherished memory of skating by moonlight with her papa.

Lots of people in the 1800s skated at night if the moon was full and the sky was clear.

Lots of people in the 1800s skated at night if the moon was full and the sky was clear.  (Source unknown)

Unfortunately, Rhonda does not enjoy skating. Caroline struggles to find an outdoor game all three girls can enjoy.

Can you imagine ice skating in a long skirt, and a wool cape instead of a down-filled parka?  This painting depicts a scene about 50 years after my story,  but it reminds me of  Caroline and her friends.  (Winslow Homer)

Can you imagine ice skating in a long skirt, and a wool cape instead of a down-filled parka? This depicts a scene about 50 years after my story, but it reminds me of Caroline and her friends. (Winslow Homer)

Winter in the Canada-U.S. border region during the War of 1812 could be quite challenging. In February, 1813, one British officer wrote in his diary about visiting sentries on a winter night: “It was freezing very hard, the Thermometer somewhere like 30 degrees below zero.  …The most distant sentry was placed near a wood which was our most vulnerable point from the United States—if a moose could have travelled in such intolerable cold.”

The officer thought he caught one of the sentries drunk—quite a serious offense in war-time! He later concluded, however, that the poor sentry had not been drinking; instead he was stumbling and slurring his words because of the severe cold. (Merry Hearts Make Light Days:  The War of 1812 Journal of Lieutenant John Le Couteur, 104th Foot, edited by Donald E. Graves.)

I don’t imagine that Caroline would want to play outside for very long if the temperature was 30 degrees below zero. Still, kids in 1812 liked to play as much as kids today do! Whenever time and conditions permitted, children could be found outside skating, sledding, or making up their own amusements.


If you look closely, you can see several different cold weather activities.  (Currier & Ives)

What winter fun do you enjoy?

Caroline’s Map

October 19, 2012

I discovered map samplers while doing research about girls’ lives during Caroline Abbott’s time.  I knew right away I wanted to include one in Caroline’s stories! One of the fun things about writing historical fiction is the chance to spotlight interesting but little-known aspects of the past.

You may be familiar with traditional samplers from the 1700s and 1800s. Often, girls were expected to practice fine stitching by creating a sampler of embroidery stitches. They usually included the alphabet, and sometimes included pictures made of thread as well.

Sarah Kurtz was 9 years old when she made this sampler in 1804.
(Smithsonian Institution/National Museum of American History.)

Map samplers were less common.  When a girl created a map, she was practicing fine stitching and learning a geography lesson at the same time!  Examples of map samplers date from about the 1770s to the 1840s.  Some historians believe that current events, such as the American Revolution and the War of 1812, made people especially curious about geography during that period.

Most girls drew the map on pale background cloth, and then stitched over the lines.  Later, printed patterns became available.  Some map publishers began to print maps on cloth and paper intended for needlework.

This map made by Catalina Juliana shows New York and neighboring states.   (Smithsonian Institution/National Museum of American History Collection.)

Often such maps were part of the lessons at girls’ schools.  Students at one such school in Pennsylvania even embroidered globes!  Caroline, though, lives too far away from a city to attend a formal school.  She has learned needlework from Mama and Grandmother.

This map was stitched by Cecelia Lewis of New York in 1809.
(Wisconsin Historical Society Online Collection.)

Since Caroline loves to sew, and loves the place she lives, I decided to have her stitch a map that shows the east end of Lake Ontario.  In Meet Caroline, the project is well underway.

A talented seamstress at American Girl embroidered this map to represent the one described in the Caroline stories. Isn’t it wonderful?  The K marks the British town of Kingston.  SH, of course, shows Caroline’s home in Sackets Harbor.

Caroline plans to finish her map and make it into a firescreen for Papa.

This old fire screen features a lady or girl’s beautiful stitchery. People in Caroline’s day sometimes used firelight to read by, and screens shielded them from the worst of the fire’s heat.  (Private collection.)

In the second story, Caroline’s Secret Message, I needed to think of a way that Caroline might be able to pass some important information to her father—right under the nose of a British soldier!  Caroline’s map provided the perfect opportunity.

This display from American Girl Place in Chicago shows Caroline’s basket packed for the trip across Lake Ontario with Mama.

Caroline’s embroidered map has captured the imagination of many readers.  In the stories, working on the map helps calm Caroline’s nerves when she’s worried, and helps her solve a problem that had stumped the adults.

That’s me showing the map at the American Girl store in Minneapolis.

Embroidery also lets Caroline be creative.  Do you have any similar hobbies? How do they make you feel?

A Special Ship – And A Special Invitation

September 27, 2012

When I was asked to create an 1812 character for American Girl, I set out to learn everything I could about that period. The very first thing I did was plan a visit to the USS Constitution and the USS Constitution Museum in Boston. Why? Well, I’ll share that in a moment.

First, I want to let everyone know that Museum staff have planned a wonderful event to celebrate publication of the Caroline Abbott books, the important role the ship played during the War of 1812, and the ways children’s lives were touched by those momentous events. If you live in the area, I hope you will join us at 2 PM on October 7. (If you don’t live nearby, but you know someone who does, I hope you’ll share this information with them.)

Attendees can dress up and enjoy an 1812 tea. I’ll present an illustrated program providing a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Caroline’s world. We’ll have time for questions, door prizes, autographs, photos, and tea. Then everyone can visit the USS Constitution Museum and take a tour of USS Constitution, a ship that actually fought in the War of 1812–just like those Caroline Abbott knew at Sackets Harbor.

Illustration from Meet Caroline. (Artwork by Robert Papp)

Tickets cost $12.50, which includes the special program, tea, and tours. To reserve your tickets, call 618-426-1812, ext. 113.

So why am I so excited about this event? Well, there aren’t many opportunities for any of us to literally touch history. The USS Constitution defeated four English warships during the War of 1812. That accomplishment gave rise to the ship’s nickname, “Old Ironsides.”

One of the active-duty tour guides on the USS Constitution.

Touring the ship and imagining the men who once lived and fought aboard is a moving experience.

Can you imagine the crewmen who once walked these floors…

…and slept in hammocks like these?

Touring made me feel like the 1812 sailors had just stepped out for a moment.

And the USS Constitution Museum is a wonderful place to visit, and to imagine what your life might have been if you’d lived two hundred years ago.

In my books, Caroline likes learning to tie new knots.

Exhibits like this one helped me imagine Caroline and her world.

If you’ve read Meet Caroline, you know that her cousin Oliver planned to travel Lake Ontario as a merchant-sailor. This exhibit showed how he would transport livestock from the dock to his ship!

On my last visit to the USS Constitution Museum, I had great fun exploring the exhibits—and seeing how much fun kids were having as they tried swinging in a sailor’s hammock, raising a sail, dressing up as a sailor, and lots more.

I’m looking forward to sharing this special place with readers.  I hope to see some of you there!