Happy Birthday, Kirsten! is the fourth book in the Kirsten series.



Chapter by Chapter Summary

Chapter One: Tornado!

Kirsten and Anna are beating the dust of the rugs, laughing & chatting as they work. The winter had been bitterly cold, so they're glad it was warm enough to be outside. The wind starts to grow stronger, and Mama looks at the darkening sky in alarm. Aunt Inger studies the horizon, saying that a tornado might be approaching, and they should hide in the root cellar. Mama orders Kirsten to get her cousins and Peter. The wind increases as Kirsten hurries to get the others, and Peter takes the grey cat Missy with him. The family scurries into the cellar, Inger bringing the family bible and a lantern, and Miss Winston, who is still staying with the Larsons, bringing her quilt.

As Inger shuts the door, Kirsten asks about Papa, Olav and Lars, who had been out helping the Petersons plant the seeds. Inger tells Kirsten not to worry, for they knew to lie in the ditch if they saw a funnel cloud coming. Everyone huddles together, and Aunt Inger passes out a few wrinkled apples leftover from their winter supply as their lunch. Inger held the family bible--the Larsons' most important possession--in her lap. Papa and Uncle Olav would read out loud from it, and the names and important dates for everyone in the family are written down in it, including Kirsten's birthday. Kirsten is too nervous to eat the apple. Mama was due to have her baby soon; what would they do if their house blew down?

Miss Winston comments that Maine never had tornadoes, and she smiles as she says no one would believe her when she wrote back home about these dangers. Anna touches a corner of Miss Winston's quilt, wondering aloud if she had been unable to find her cloak. Miss Winston admits she never thought about bringing her cloak with her down into the cellar; she just knew she had to save her quilt. Every time Miss Winston looks at her quilt, she continues, it's like receiving a letter from home. Inger tells Miss Winston she was right to save it, as the quilt is beautiful.

Kirsten had never taken a close look at the quilt that laid on her teacher's bed, so she takes this opportunity to study it now. Lisbeth comments it must have taken a long time to sew, and Anna asks if Miss Winston had sewn it all by herself. Miss Winston, never passing an opportunity to teach a lesson, proudly tells how her mother, aunts, cousins and sister had made this friendship quilt together for her to remember them by when she left home. Miss Winston's gaze grows distant, as if she's looking at her friends and family in Maine.

Kirsten admires the quilt and, wanting to make one herself, asks Miss Winston to teach her to quilt. Lisbeth is eager to learn as well, abut Miss Winston says a large quilt like hers would be difficult, and they should start with small squares of muslin. The girls start planning their squares, but Mama reminds Kirsten she does not have the time for fancy sewing as she is needed to help make baby clothes. Kirsten sighs, already tired of hemming shirts, and wonders if it's really necessary to have so many diapers.

Miss Winston argues that quilting trains the hand and eye, and a quilt is very practical and wonderfully warm. Mama looks doubtful, unfamiliar herself with quilting. Anna suggests she and Lisbeth could learn quilting, and then teach Kirsten when she had the time. Lisbeth adds that perhaps Kirsten could sew before bedtime or during recess, and Miss Winston says 'where there's a will, there's a way'.

Missy the cat jumps from Peter's lap and curls up around Kirsten's ankles. Missy is expecting kittens and doesn't like to be fussed over, but Kirsten feels comforted petting her. Kirsten says she'll sew the baby clothes so fast she would have the spare time, and the girls decide to learn how to make a quilt. Inger comments to Mama she never knows what these girls would learn next, then notices that the wind has died down. She opens the cellar door to discover that, though the linen and a few roof shingles litter the yard, all the buildings are still standing. Mama breathes a sigh of relief, thankful the danger had passed them by, and they all leave the cellar.

Chapter Two: New Babies

The school's summer term begins, and all the girls share fabric scraps and work together to make their quilt squares during recess. Mary Stewart, a girl whose family had came from Boston to Minnesota, has experience working on a quilt before and is thus able to help the others when Miss Winston isn't available. Kirsten makes conversation by mentioning all the baby clothes her Mama has been making. Mary comments how her Aunt Sadie had twins, but only one of the babies lived and Aunt Sadie herself died during childbirth. Kirsten tries to concentrate on Mary's handiwork and not her words, not wanting to think of her Mama in danger.

Mary continues with her story, saying how her mother took in her cousin and called the baby Mary's little sister, but the little girl would never know her real mother. Everyone seems to have their own stories about mothers and babies dying during childbirth on the frontier, and thinking of something happening to Mama makes Kirsten want to cry. It's better, she decides, not to think about it and focus on the pretty patterns instead.

Anna returns to the sewing circle after getting help from Miss Winston with her tangled thread, saying how Miss Winston was the nicest teacher she ever had. She states she will be sorry when Miss Winston has to leave Powderkeg School, a statement that startles Kirsten as she had assumed Miss Winston would be with them always, like family. Mary explains that teachers always moved on and in the four years she'd attended this school, she'd had a different teacher each year. Miss Winston was the only one of those teachers Mary had found nice. Anna adds that Miss Winston often said how she liked it here and Kirsten wishes aloud she would stay, wanting everything to stay as it was now. The only thing Kirsten wants to change was for Mama to feel better; recently she had become as nervous and irritable as their cat Missy.

Anna suggests if Miss Winston were to leave, they could add their squares to her quilt, but Mary points out Miss Winston's quilt already had its border sewn on and was complete. Kirsten suggests they could make another quilt for Miss Winston, just like her family had. Anna loves this idea, but Mary points out it would take a long time to make and they can't rush the process. Kirsten knows Mary is right; working on just one square was already taking a long time, and Kirsten has also been busier then ever helping with Mama. She had even had to skip school sometimes to help do Mama's chores at home.

Kirsten doesn't want to give up on her idea, however, and suggests they sew all their squares together to make a small quilt before the summer term was over. Lisbeth, who always thought through her decisions carefully, states they should try. Mary keeps saying no, repeating that the best part of quilting wasn't the final quilt, but rather making it with everyone together. Kirsten looks at Mary with new respect, agreeing with her sentiment.

Anna admires Kirsten's design, commenting it looks like a heart. Kirsten explains she had been trying to make the flowers Mama had given her to wear in her hair when she turned eight. She hadn't been able to celebrate her ninth birthday, she explains, as their family had been traveling to America. Mary says she's sure Kirsten will have a big celebration for her tenth birthday, but Kirsten is doubtful. Mama has had so much work to do, Kirsten thinks she had forgotten it, and she felt it was best not to remind Mama about it until the baby was born. It was better just to help out all she could and pray that Mama would be well.

Helping out means more and more work for Kirsten around the farm, and she no longer has any time to sew or even go to school. One morning, when Kirsten is busy helping Aunt Inger milk the cows, Lisbeth bursts in to invite Kirsten to see Missy's kittens. Inger scolds Lisbeth for being at the barn when she was supposed to be cooking breakfast, but Lisbeth explains that Anna had told her the news. Kirsten asks Inger for permission to take a look, and Inger allows her but says to be quick about it.

The two go into the barn loft, where Anna and Peter are both crouched around Missy and the five new kittens. The smallest kitten is unable to squeeze its way in to find a place to nurse. Peter comments that it was so little it would never live, repeating what he'd heard Uncle Olav say about the smallest piglet. Kirsten tells Peter to be quiet and that he doesn't know everything. She tries to guide the tiny grey kitten to it's mother, but it still can't find it's way. Lisbeth thinks it might have a chance, but sometimes the very little ones aren't strong enough to make it. Kirsten felt the kitten's heartbeat and whispers that it would survive.

Peter asks if that kitten is Kirsten's favorite and she nods. Peter, who's always liked the biggest and toughest animals, says that the big black and white cat is his favorite. Kirsten asks Peter to make sure the little grey kitten doesn't get lost in the grass, but Peter shoves his hands into his pockets in imitation of Lars and says that Missy doesn't need help taking care of her kittens. Kirsten isn't as sure as Peter, and she whispers encouragement to the kitten, promising to return later, before going back to help Aunt Inger.

Chapter Three: Big Enough

Mama calls for Kirsten from the cabin, and Kirsten goes in to see Mama sitting on the edge of the bed, sweating and looking nervous. Mama asks where Papa and Inger have gone, and Kirsten reminds her Inger was taking a pot of soup to the sick Petersons and Papa and Olav were helping Mr. Peterson with the planting. Kirsten is confused by the questions, as Mama should know just as well as her that there is a lot of work to do. Kirsten tells her Papa and Inger would both be back by lunch, and asks if something's wrong. Mama invites Kirsten to sit with her, saying that the baby might be coming sooner than she expected, possibly today even. Kirsten suddenly panics and offers to fetch Aunt Inger, but Mama assures her that she'll be back soon, and asks Kirsten to help her lie down and rest.

Mama laces her fingers through Kirsten's, sharing how the first thing she'd thought of this morning was the day Kirsten was born. Mormor and Mrs. Hanson, the midwife, had helped her that day and even though Kirsten was red faced with white fuzz for hair, Mama thought she was beautiful. Mama shares how happy she was because she had wanted a daughter so much, and Kirsten puts her head on Mama's shoulder. Mama strokes Kirsten's hair, saying that she had been thinking how Kirsten's birthday was coming in two weeks, and that she'd never forget the day Kristen was born. Kirsten is happy Mama hadn't forgotten her birthday, and thinks herself foolish for worrying she ever would have.

Suddenly Mama squeezes Kirsten's hand extra hard, saying that the baby wanted to be born whether they were ready or not. She asks Kirsten to have Lisbeth stay with her while Kirsten fetches Inger and Papa. Kirsten dashes over to their horse Blackie, shouting the news to Lisbeth along the way, and rides off to the Peterson's cabin. Kirsten urges the horse to go faster and pleads for Mama to be all right. She calls for Aunt Inger as she approaches the Peterson cabin, and Inger quickly realizes it's Mama's time. Inger runs back home, telling Kirsten over her shoulder where Papa is, and not to worry about Mama as she was strong and healthy. Kirsten, still worried, rides quickly over to Papa to tell him the baby is coming. Papa asks if there's that much of a hurry and Kirsten insists there is, handing over the reins to Blackie and dismounting. Papa tells Kirsten she has been a good helper, and Uncle Olav wishes him good luck as he rides off.

Kirsten wants to run after him to help Mama, but Olav kindly tells her walking will get them there soon enough. Kirsten is too young to help with the birth, so she and Peter should stay at their cabin with Lisbeth and Anna where there's still plenty of work to do. At the big house Kirsten has lunch and helps with the chores, but finds it difficult to wait for news about Mama and the baby. Uncle Olav tells her babies come when they are ready and they can't hurry it by worrying. Kirsten is in the middle of plucking a turkey when Aunt Inger appears in the cabin's doorway, waving her apron like a flag and smiling. Kirsten and Peter run to the cabin and Peter trembls as he asks if Mama is alright. Kirsten knows from her aunt's smile that the news is good, and Aunt Inger invites them to come in and see for themselves.

The two tiptoe in to see Mama lying on the bed, where she invites the two to see their new little sister, asleep in the cradle. Peter softly says that he thought babies would be bigger and Mama ruffles his hair as she tells him babies start out very small, but this baby is big enough. Peter grins, repeating that she's big enough. Kirsten breathes a sign of relief, suddenly drained of energy after worrying for so long. Mama states there are six of them now and Papa adds that it's another mouth to feed, but he smiles his biggest smile as he says all six of them are safe and well.

Chapter Four: Party Plans

During supper, Peter asks how soon they were going to raise the barn, talking as if he's one of the men. Papa had explained several times, he says, that they would raise the barn next week from Thursday, with nine other men and their families coming to help him along with Olav and Lars. Kirsten can't imagine how the long, heavy beams could ever be lifted, and feels that Papa and Olav can do anything.

Kirsten goes to serve some stew to Mama, who is resting in bed with the baby. Mama still isn't strong enough to work for very long, so Kirsten has been doing most of Mama's chores and hasn't been to school lately. Kirsten misses working on the quilt with her friends, and she had been thinking of them daily. Mama mentions that Kirsten's friends from school would come with their families for the barn raising. While this news pleases Kirsten, she didn't see how she'd have time to play with them. But Mama continues, saying that the families will stay for the whole day for the barn raising and then have a dance after supper. She says she has something to ask Kirsten, who sighs obediently, certain there will be more work for her to do.

Mama says since the barn raising is planned for the day before Kirsten's birthday and Kirsten had been doing the work of two women recently, Mama thought she might like to do something special with her friends. Kirsten grabs Mama's hand in disbelief and joy as Mama states Kirsten's 10th birthday should be a day of her own. Kirsten immediately starts thinking up ideas of what she might do for her birthday, and asks if she can run and tell Lisbeth and Anna the news. Papa is about to say something about washing up, but Mama tells Kirsten the dishes ca wait.

Kirsten dashes to her cousins' house and tells them about the party. Anna and Lisbeth are excited, and Kirsten suggests they can work on their quilt for Miss Winston. Anna starts to say it isn't for Miss Winston, but Lisbeth quickly hushes her, saying it will indeed be the perfect chance to work on the quilt. Kirsten says she's way behind the others with her sewing and it hasn't seemed like she'd been doing her part, but she hoped to catch up by then.

Anna hugs Kirsten, saying that everyone knows Kirsten is busy helping her Mama and being behind doesn't matter. Kirsten says it matters to her, as she misses the fun of sewing and being with them all. Lisbeth tells Kirsten they can sew as much as she wants for her party. Anna lets go of Kirsten and hugs herself instead, saying she can't wait for the surprise, and Lisbeth clarifies she means the party. Anna adds that she wishes she were turning ten like Kirsten.

Chapter Five: Friends Come Around

Anna tells everyone to pick as many daisies as they can for their daisy chains. All eight girls spread out across the meadow, and Kirsten takes a moment to admire the progress made on the barn raising. Kirsten hopes Missy has kept her kittens out of the way of the workers, and resolves to check on them later. When the girls finish collecting the flowers and making the daisy chains, they sit outside to sew. Though Kirsten's square is still incomplete, everyone else's squares are done, so the group works to join the squares together. Mary explains this part goes quickly, but Kirsten hopes it won't go by too fast so she can enjoy talking with her friends.

The girls finish the quilt by the afternoon, and Kirsten notes that it isn't as large or as heavy as Miss Winston's quilt. Mary explains it's a summer coverlet, as no one had a spare blanket to sew between the layers. Kristen says she's sure Miss Winston would like it regardless, and Anna tries to hide her giggles. As Mary folds the quilt, Inger calls them in for sweets. Kirsten is about to fetch her Mama, but Mama comes out from the kitchen carrying a heart shaped cake for Kirsten. Miss Winston pretends to be stern as she orders everyone to sit in a circle.

Lisbeth wishes Kirsten a happy birthday as she puts a flower wreath on Kirsten's head, and Anna sighs that she looks beautiful. As the girls munch on Mama's cake, Inger gives her gift to Kirsten; hair ribbons in Kirsten's favorite color, pink. Mama then gives Kirsten a fancy new apron, and when Kirsten asks how Mama found the time to make it, Miss Winston whispers to her 'where there's a will, there's a way'. Kirsten asks if she can wear her new gifts to the barn raising dance, and her mother gives her permission.

Mary then stands up and announces they all have something to give to Kirsten, handing her the quilt they had just completed. Kirsten is confused by the gesture, whispering a reminder that it was meant for their teacher. Miss Winston smiles as she says one quilt is enough for anyone, and Lisbeth explains they had decided to give it to Kirsten as she had missed most of the fun of making it. They want her to know they didn't forget her, even when she wasn't at school. Anna points out the blank squares as spots they could sign their names so it could be a friendship quilt similar to their teacher's. Miss Winston takes out a pen and ink from her bag, instructing the girls to use their best handwriting, and the girls take turns signing their names. On the border of the quilt, Miss Winston uses her most beautiful writing to write 'For Kirsten Larson on her 10th Birthday'.

The roof beams for the new barn are fully raised by the late afternoon, and once supper is prepared, everyone eats together. Kirsten is almost too happy to be hungry, certain there would never be a day like this again. When it grows dark enough to hang up the lanterns, the music starts and the dance begins. Kirsten is skipping with Anna when Papa asks her to share a birthday dance with him. Kirsten dances the waltz with Papa, and afterwards is excited and dizzy enough to take a break by the wagons.

Kirsten sees Missy moving her kittens to the new barn, but notices that the little grey kitten is missing. Kirsten goes to the pile of straw where she had seen them all before, and finds the kitten mewing. Missy doesn't seem to be coming back for her, and Kirsten wonders if Missy has given up on her. Kirsten picks up the kitten and snuggles it before putting it into her apron pocket. Kirsten plans to care for the kitten, feeding it cow's milk, so the cat would live and grow up strong.

By the time Kirsten returns to the new barn, the dance is ending and Papa and Uncle Olav are thanking their neighbors and waving goodbye. Kirsten heads to the cabin, where Mama is rocking the baby's cradle. Mama asks if Kirsten is weary, pointing out how Peter fell asleep in his clothes in an attempt to stay awake. Kirsten sits next to Mama and pulls out the sleeping kitten, stating her plan to feed it. Mama suggests ways to feed the cat, and tomorrow they can see if Missy wants her little one back.

It's good to be in the quiet cabin with Mama, but Kirsten is too excited to sleep. She puts the kitten and the quilt on her lap, and begins to work on the quilt square she hadn't been able to finish. Mama asks what Kirsten plans to do with it. Kirsten ponders a moment before deciding to make a quilt for the baby. It will take a long time to make, but she believes she can have it done before the weather gets cold again. Mama says that would be a special gift, and Kirsten smiles.

Kirsten, remembering how her mother said she was happy to have a daughter, asks if it's better to have two daughters. Mama kisses Kirsten on the cheek, saying it is good to have two daughters, but there's still only one Kirsten, and wishes her a happy birthday.

Looking Back: Growing Up in 1854

Discusses childhood in pioneer America. Topics covered:

  • The role midwives played in assisting childbirth on the frontier
  • Child mortality due to lack of medicine
  • Dangers children faced around their home, such as burning themselves from fire or falling down stairs
  • Instilling obedience in children to stay away from dangers - a common technique parents used in lieu of safety measures
  • Typical children's clothing of the time - most children dressed in miniature versions of adult clothing
  • Children's roles with regards to household operations, from gathering eggs and wood chips for young children to assisting parents around the house and on the field for older children
  • Recreation activities and social get-togethers on the frontier to make work fun
  • Inexpensive, practical, or homemade presents pioneer children might have received for gifts
  • The freedom afforded to pioneer girls to express themselves compared to their mothers
  • Societal expectations of girls when they turned fifteen or sixteen

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