Meet Kirsten


Meet Kirsten: An American Girl is the first book in the Kirsten series. It was included with the Kirsten doll when the doll was available for purchase; with the collection's archival, it can be purchased separately.



Only in Meet Kirsten

Chapter by Chapter Summary

Chapter One: America!

Kirsten is on the deck of the boat they are traveling on, the Eagle. She eagerly points out the land across the sea as America. Her friend Marta shades her eyes to look and says she thought she would never walk on land again, shivering. Kirsten asks her if she's cold and suggests they go sit where the wind isn't very strong. Tucking her doll Sari into her shawl Kirsten walks over to a tall coil of rope, hitches up her skirt, and climbs in. Marta climbs in after her. Kirsten takes a handkerchief from her pocket and makes a cape for Sari. Marta uses her doll's apron as a shawl and tells the doll that they will soon be on land again. Kirsten takes out some bread and breaks it in two; the two girls share with their dolls before sharing with each other. Kirsten asks Marta what she wants to do first in America and Marta says she wants to pick an apple, as there are apples everywhere. Kirsten says they'll pick cherries too, thrilled at the idea of fresh fruit. Marta adds they will have fresh bread too, and wonders if they will arrive by tonight. Kirsten says not if it storms again, as the clouds above are darkening. She can see the sailors climbing the rigging above her.

Kirsten and Marta hide together in the ropes.
Papa calls out for Kirsten, and Kirsten stands up to see Papa standing on deck. Papa says a storm is coming and with the rocky coast and wind it could be dangerous. He lifts Kirsten and Marta out of the rope coil to lead them down below deck. Water is washing over the deck and into Kirsten's boots as she makes her way towards the hold. Papa hurries the two girls down below. Kirsten knows that she can't stay on deck as it is dangerous in a storm, but she does not enjoy having to stay in the room they are in. Twenty Swedish families are in the same room and have been for the past two months, sharing bunks lining the walls with their things stored in trunks. The air is sour--even more so when someone is seasick--and dark with only one oil lantern attached to the ceiling. Mama is lying in the bunk she shares with Kirsten and Kirsten climbs in with her. Mama says she sent Papa to find her and wonders where she was hiding. Kirsten says that she and Marta saw land. Mama says that she prayed there were no more storms so she could feel better, as she has been ill since boarding. Kirsten asks her not to lose heart, even with the ship's pitching and noises outside. There is a crash, and Mama puts an arm around Kirsten and warns her not to fall off their bunk. Things tumble around the hold and the lantern falls underneath a table.
Kirsten and Mama lie in their bunk as the storm rages.
Kirsten says that Lars told her the coast is full of rocks and worries they will be blown against them. Mama tells her to think about Uncle Olav's letter instead and asks Kirsten if she remembers him. Kirsten asks to be told more about her uncle as she has heard about him often, hoping that this will distract her from the storm. Mama talks about Olav's leaving for America and his letter telling about their farm in Minnesota (a word that is strange to Kirsten). Kirsten, at Mama's request, goes on to say that Olav met Inger, who was also from Sweden; Inger was a widow with two girls, Anna and Lisbeth. Mama continues that Olav married her. Kirsten asks if they will be friends. Mama assures her they will as they will live on the same farm. The ship is still being shaken up by the storm, and Kirsten holds Sari to her and thinks about them almost being to America, imagining the farm they will be on and hoping it will be like the one she left behind.

The storm passes and Kirsten feels like a cat she once fished out as she is wet and dirty. But everyone is safe and the Eagle heads towards the coast. She and her family are on deck. Her father says he smells earth again; he is holding Peter. Mama smiles and leans to whisper to Papa that she often worried that they would not make it. Papa says that she is brave and has heart and he is proud of her and their children. Lars, who has been talking to sailors, says that they will land in New York tomorrow. Mama is glad as they will have fresh bread and she can wash their clothes. Lars says they won't be able to leave before they are examined by the health inspector; he explains the purpose of the health inspector, who will not let anyone who is sick stay in America. Peter worries that Mama is sick and reaches out for her; Mama hugs him. Papa explains that Mama has only been seasick, and that is common; the health inspector is looking for more serious illnesses such as cholera that are fatal. Lars says no one has cholera, and Papa assures Peter there will be nothing to worry about and they will be in New York to continue the journey to Minnesota.

The Eagle docks in New York Harbor the next day and the health inspector says the passengers may leave. Lars bounds down the gangplank with Peter behind him; Mama and Papa go next, with Kirsten behind them holding Sari. Kirsten is excited to get on the grass and run, but is dizzy when she gets on the land. She asks Papa why she's dizzy and Papa explains that they have gotten used to the ship's movement and need to get used to being on land again. Kirsten stands still for a moment and looks back at the Eagle; when they boarded the ship no one knew what to expect, but they have all made it safely to America. Kirsten wonders about what is next (more hopeful than scared) and follows her parents to the park near the dock.

Chapter Two: Lost

Kirsten, Mama, and Peter are sitting under an oak tree in the park nearby. Kirsten has made a bed for Sari in the dry grass. She thinks that summer is quite hot in America; when the family left their Swedish farm three months ago, Kirsten had needed her heavy wool clothing, but it is much too heavy here. Peter is lying and watching for Lars and Papa who have purchased tickets for the rest of the journey. Papa has promised to take Kirsten to buy food. Kirsten wants to go exploring, but Mama will not let her as she feels Swedish children can get easily lost. Kirsten watches the New Yorkers walking by; the women and girls have flowered dresses with ruffles and the men have tight trousers and white jackets. Kirsten has rather tattered clothes; the only fine thing she has is the amber heart necklace her grandmother gave her before leaving. She wishes aloud that they had such pretty dresses and that only the people from the ship are dressed like them. Mama says that their clothes are clean and dry, and there is no need for shame; furthermore, she couldn't milk cows in such things. Peter makes a face at the idea of fancy clothes and then notices Papa and Lars on the way back. Lars has cherries and Papa scoops out more fruit for Kirsten and Peter before he and Mama share the rest. Mama remarks at the size of the cherries and Lars says everything in America is big, including New York. Papa says they will see more tomorrow as they will leave west tomorrow. Mama asks if he found an honest agent; Mr. Peterson on the boat was cheated of his money. Papa assures her that the agent he chose is good; he is from Sweden, speaks English, and was able to help them exchange their money as well as get the tickets. Mama laments that it will be a long trip to Minnesota. Papa says the agent will guide them to the Mississippi River and they only have a few more weeks travel left. He urges Mama not to lose heart. Peter tugs on Papa and says they need to go buy food. Mama hands Kirsten the milk jug, warning her to stay with her father as she doesn't speak English. Papa takes Peter's hand and the three head down Broadway Street. Kirsten skips down the street next to her father and brother with the milk jug and Sari.

Kirsten is fascinated by the many buggies, carts, and people on the sidewalks. Back in Sweden her village was small enough to know everyone but here everyone is a stranger. The Americans are chattering around her and she is unable to understand them. As they walk Kirsten is fascinated by all the things around her and asks Papa to slow down so that she can see it all. They get to the bread shop and Papa buys several rolls, giving one to Kirsten and one to Peter. Kirsten eats the sweet, soft bread slowly and keeps an eye on her father. She sees women holding baskets of fruit and the berries remind her of the cloudberries her grandmother gathered in Sweden. Kirsten is distracted by one of the berry sellers and a boy carrying fish bumps into her. She trips over a black boy polishing a man's shoes. She tries to call for her Papa to wait, but has lost him in the crowd. Realizing what has happened Kirsten clutches Sari and runs, pushing past women shopping and calling for her father. Many little boys are in the crowd but none are Peter. Kirsten hurries along looking in shop windows for cheese and milk, thinking that her brother and father are at the milk shop waiting on her. Kirsten climbs around pigs rooting in the gutter and dodges in front of a buggy and across the street down the rows of shops. She is still unable to locate the milk shop and this side is even more crowded. The voices around her make her head swim and she calls again for Papa. She hugs the pitcher and tucks her necklace away, worried about thieves. She keeps calling but can't find Papa. Kirsten considers going back to the park, but realizes that she has no idea which way that is or which way they had come.

Kirsten cries on a stoop.
Kirsten attempts to ask a woman holding a baby where the park by the river is, but the woman walks past as if she hadn't heard. She asks a tall boy with black hair; he talks to his friend and they laugh at her. Kirsten cries for help but no one pays any attention. She panics, wondering why no one realizes she's lost. The sun and garbage smells make Kirsten dizzy because of her fear. She panics that she might not find her papa, or the park with her mama, and what would happen to her in the city. She starts running again, bumping into barrels. When a dog nips at her she keeps running. She ends up on a street with butchers and tries to head back, but ends up turning onto another street with houses and no shops. She thinks in worry that her papa will never look for her here and that she might be getting further away from the park. Kirsten wants to be brave and have heart like Mama, but she sinks down on the steps of a brown house and starts crying in Sari's skirt. She cries aloud that she wonders what will happen and if the family will leave for Minnesota without her.

Kirsten cries for a long time until she is touched on the shoulder. She looks up to see a brown haired woman in a long blue apron. The woman speaks to Kirsten gently, as if to want to know what's wrong. Kirsten says she's lost, but the woman doesn't understand. She shakes her head and Kirsten cries harder. The woman talks again and makes a pouring motion. Kirsten panics that the woman wants her pitcher and she clutches it. The woman goes into her house, and Kirsten begins to start crying to Sari again. The woman comes out with a tin cup filled with water. Kirsten drinks the whole cup and thanks her in Swedish. The woman sits next to her and smiles; Kirsten decides that she understands thank you, but doesn't know how she will tell her about her parents and how to get back. She traces the dust at her feet. She then gets the idea that she can make a picture and traces out the shape of the Eagle before tugging on the woman's apron and pointing to it. The woman smiles, locks up her house, and motions for Kirsten to follow. Kirsten follows her back to the river and Battery Park, with the Eagle docked nearby.

At the top of the path leading to the park, Mama and Papa are standing. Kirsten calls for her parents and they turn to see her, and then Papa runs to her. Kirsten allows both her parents to hug her. Papa says that they were scared as they couldn't find her. Kirsten said she thought they would leave without her. Mama says they never would and asks how she found her way back. Kirsten realizes the woman is gone and explains that she drew the boat and the lady led her back. Papa says that Kirsten is very smart--and next time she should be smart enough to stay near. Kristen promises, meaning it with her heart.

Chapter Three: Across the New Land

The next day, the Larsons begin their journey to Minnesota. They're not sure how long the journey will be. At the park, Kirsten meets Marta and tells her that they are leaving that day and asks if her family is too. Marta tells Kirsten that they won't leave til tomorrow. Kirsten is upset that they are not traveling together. Marta asks Kirsten if they are taking a boat; Kirsten says they are taking a train and asks what a train looks like. Marta describes it as loud with a lot of smoke and says that her family might be scared of them. Kirsten says the noise won't hurt them, and that a train is like many wagons traveling. She says that Marta might get on their train tomorrow. Marta says that they may never see each other again. Kirsten reminds her that her family is going to Minnesota too and so they should meet again--or she hopes so. Marta says she will miss Kirsten.

Kirsten and Marta happily reunite in Chicago.
Kirsten struggles with the goodbye, fighting tears. She hates goodbyes. She tells Marta that her grandmother told her that when she is lonely, she should look at the sun as everyone sees the same sun. Marta asks her if she looks at the sun and thinks of her grandmother, and Kirsten says she does and prays for her. Marta smiles a little and says she will look at the sun when she misses Kirsten. Kirsten says she will and pray "God Bless Marta". Marta says she will do the same and look for her everywhere. Kirsten sighs. She feels that she will always be a Swedish girl away from home and wonders how America will ever be her home, then follows her parents to meet with the agent.

When the train pulls up, Kirsten is more than a little scared, describing it as a black iron house on fire. She stays close to Mama, who squeezes her hand hard as they get aboard. The inside of the train is very hot and there is grit on the floor and cinders in the air. The windows are nailed shut. Papa and Lars stand near the door; Kirsten, Mama, and Peter are on a bench near the windows with trunks and bundles piled in front of them. Kirsten likens it to being inside their trunk. Peter complains if they're there yet and Mama tells him to hush as they haven't even moved. Some of the older folks around are praying that the train won't catch on fire. The train starts moving with lurches and screeching, and Peter hides his face in Mama's lap. The men are quiet, and Lars' eyes are wide. Kirsten can see houses and trees moving backwards and the train starts picking up speed. Lars says that they are moving faster than the fastest horse can move. Kirsten gets dizzy and closes her eyes; even though she can't see, she can feel how fast they are moving. The train travels for several days. When they stop for water the door is opened for a few minutes but the air is still hot. Everyone is dazed into quiet. Mama occasionally opens the food trunk but no one is hungry, not even Lars. When Kirsten catches his eyes he gives her a sad smile, as he is as uncomfortable being trapped inside as she is.

When they get to Chicago, Kirsten does not care about the hot dusty wind as she is simply glad to be free to walk and run again. Papa has said that they will join a group traveling the Mississippi in wagons, but they will first rest at a boarding house. Kirsten feels it's good to be in a house, though this house reminds her of the barn in Sweden with its wide openness and long, open sleeping room. In the kitchen there are tubs for Mama to wash their clothes in; when the laundry is done, Mama sends Kirsten and Peter out for sun. Kirsten ends up on a long porch with many children. She is used to smiling at other girls and wishing they spoke her language. She then hears someone call her name--it's Marta. Marta runs through the clothes drying and the two girls embrace, whirling and glad to see each other. That evening, the two families sit together for a dinner of roast pork and potatoes. Marta's father says that the two families will travel together all the way to Minnesota. Kirsten and Marta hold hands under the table. Kirsten can't believe her luck, and feels America is becoming more like home. With good food, a bed to sleep in, and friends.

Chapter Four: A Sad Journey

Kirsten peeks in as Marta lies in sick bay.
Kirsten likes the Mississippi riverboat they will be traveling on, The Redwing, as soon as she sees it (the boat resembles the red-winged blackbirds nearby). Right away she wants to go to the wide upper deck, and she and Marta get under a rope and head up the stairs. Before they can get to the top a sailor stops them. They can't understand, but his gestures tell them enough--to go back down. During a supper of dried pork and bread, Kirsten asks why they can't go on the upper deck. Papa explains that the deck is for rich people. Kirsten asks if they could pay more to go up there and Papa says they only have a little money left. which will be needed to hire a wagon to the farm. Mama says the money has been managed well and snaps at Kirsten to stop asking for so much. Kirsten is surprised at her sudden crossness with so little of the journey left. She asks what's wrong and Mama says that she's worried; as they were boarding, the sailors were burying a person who died of cholera. Lars says not to worry as they are all healthy. Kirsten thinks so as well; they are strong and tan. Mama doesn't smile, saying that cholera kills strong like weak and that they should pray they make it safely.
Kirsten cries as Marta's coffin is carried away to be buried.
For two days Kirsten and Marta enjoy the trip, watching hawks and fish. On the third morning, however, Marta is not on the deck to meet Kirsten; her father is there alone staring at the river. Kirsten asks him what is wrong and he says that Marta is sick with cholera, gripping the railing tightly. Kirsten is shocked; she and Marta had played right after dinner and she had been fine. She says as much to Marta's father. Marta's father says she doubled up with pain during the night and she aches and moans now; the captain has made her go to the sick bay. Kirsten asks to see her and Marta's father takes her wrist telling her not to go as she will get sick; her mother is there with her and that is all that can be done. Kirsten feels she must go see, though; she runs below deck and to the sick bay. Marta is lying on a straw mat. She is doubled up and struggling to breathe, moaning and trembling when her mother tries to wipe her forehead. Kirsten whispers her name and tries to step forward, but Marta's mother tells her to stay back and go to her family as it's dangerous. She also says that Marta will get better. Kirsten stays near the sick bay anyways until Mama finds her there. Mama says she has looked everywhere and that nothing can be done for Marta with cholera; she warns Kirsten to take care of herself and stay with her parents. Kirsten does so, but her thoughts are with Marta. She thinks and says that Marta must get better.

That night Kirsten is barely able to eat and is sure she will not sleep, but does so. She wakes up with a start later, wondering what is wrong for a moment before remembering Marta. She runs to the sick bay and sees Marta is not there. She assumes Marta is better and goes to the deck to find her. It is morning and the boat has anchored at a beach; the gangplank is down and some sailors are carrying a wooden box on their shoulders. Marta's father is on deck as well with his arm around Marta's mother. Kirsten asks him where Marta is, and he says that Marta died last night and the sailors are burying her; her soul is in heaven. He then covers his face.

Kirsten cries that Marta can't be dead, feeling like her heart has been ripped out. She begins to sob miserably, unable to say even Marta's name. Mama wraps her arms around Kirsten and Papa pats her shoulder. Papa tells Kirsten to stop crying, but Mama cradles her and says to let Kirsten have her tears.

Chapter Five: Home at Last

Kirsten leaves Sari behind in the trunks.
It is raining when the Larsons disembark The Redwing. Kirsten does not watch the boat pull away; she never wants to see the boat again because Marta died there. She's lonely and there is no sun for her to look up at to make a prayer. Instead, she looks at the town of Riverton and says a prayer for Marta. Mama touches her cheek and tells her to cheer up as Papa and the boys will soon be back with a wagon, making it a short trip to the farm. However, Papa returns with a frown; they do not have enough money for a horse and wagon. Mama asks what they will do and Papa says they must walk to the farm and leave the trunks. Mama looks at the two trunks and says everything they own is in the trunks and how will they manage. Papa says they will carry what they can and get the trunks later from Maryville where they will have to be shipped. He begins to take out blankets and tools from inside the larger trunk. Mama pauses and says it can't be helped and they will send for the trunks soon. People are more important than things; they have all made it and are well. She makes a bundle of the remaining food and closes the food trunk.

Papa tells Kirsten she will be needed to carry things and will have to leave Sari in the trunk. Kirsten doesn't argue and places Sari on top of the sweaters and linens. She kisses the doll's cheek and says she'll be back soon before Papa locks the trunks and takes them to the warehouse. The family heads down the road along the river, each carrying a bundle. The walk is long and muddy, and Kirsten is soaked all the way to her petticoat. She occasionally hears a cow, but there are long stretches of prairie between farms. Even Lars is tired with his long hair plastered to his neck. The rain stops by afternoon; the sky is blue and birds are flying around the flowered fields. They stop to eat lunch and Papa says that Olav wrote the truth; the soil here is good and life will be better. Kirsten picks a daisy for Mama to wear at her collar before they go on.

Papa begins to ask the way to go at the farms they pass, and finally says that Olav's farm will be the next one. Kirsten sees a house, a barn, a cabin, and cows heading towards the barn. Lars and Peter begin to run through the puddles, shouting that they have arrived. A man that smiles like Papa comes out of the house as well as two girls and a woman. They call hello back and are glad to see the Larsons. Kirsten suddenly becomes shy and hides behind Mama. She then hears her own name being called. The taller girl, Lisbeth, takes the bundle from her and says that they have watched for her every day. The little girl, Anna, says she watched too. Everyone is hugging; Aunt Inger is trying to hug all the children at once. Papa and Olav pound shoulders; Olav then grabs Lars and swings Peter off his feet. Mama and Inger cry and there is more hugging. Olav says to come see the barn, and Inger says that they will not as they will have supper first as the Larsons are tired and hungry and have come halfway around the world to get here. Peter pipes up that they had to walk. Aunt Inger hugs him again and tells Mama and Papa they can get settled in the cabin after supper; tomorrow, the men can look at the barn while the women talk.

Kirsten, Anna, and Lisbeth in the tree fort together.
Kirsten sees delicious food inside the house, and her mouth waters. Aunt Inger says not to worry about the mud when the Larsons start taking off their boots. She does notice they are soaked through, though, and says they need dry things. She goes to a trunk like the one that was left behind and gets out pants and shirts for the men, a blue cotton dress for Mama, and a matching one for Kirsten. The dress was Lisbeth's but she has outgrown it. Kirsten follows Lisbeth and Anna up to the loft and Anna gives a part of a worn quilt to dry off with. She says they will go to their secret fort tomorrow. Lisbeth says they will talk about it later as she hands Kirsten a petticoat. Kirsten, now dressed like her cousins, comes down the ladder to the kitchen. Aunt Inger feigns surprise and asks who the "new girl" is. Mama takes Kirsten's hand and says that this is Kirsten Larson, her American daughter.

Kirsten wakes up the next morning in her own bed in the log cabin. The morning sun is hot when she is led off by Lisbeth and Anna towards the stream. Anna asks if Kirsten told her brothers about the fort because it is only for girls. Kirsten, smiling, says she didn't because she can keep a secret. Anna is carrying her rag doll which reminds Kirsten of Sari. Lisbeth holds up a hand and asks if anyone is coming; Anna looks and says no. Lisbeth lifts up a pine branch and they step off the trail into the woods. Anna explains they go to the fort through the pines so as not to leave footsteps. They climb through a tunnel and arrive at the fort which is underneath a wild cherry tree. Anna asks Kirsten if she likes the fort and Kirsten says she does. Lisbeth sets her doll down on a bed and says to come up to the loft; the three girls climb up the tree and sit on a branch. Anna says this is where they look out for boys; there hasn't been any before, but with Lars and Peter there are now. The rule is to get low and be quiet when a boy is seen; Lisbeth asks if Kirsten will keep this and other rules. Kirsten promises she will. Anna says that since Kirsten lives there now, she will need to pick a spot for Sari. Kirsten picks out a mossy spot and climbs down to touch it. Anna climbs down and makes her doll ask where Sari is because she wants to visit. Kirsten says that Sari is still on her way, but to visit her (Kirsten) as she's now there.

Looking Back: America in 1854

Discusses American immigration from Western European countries in mid-nineteenth century pioneer America. Topics discussed:

  • How several Americans have ancestors and relatives who were immigrants to the US.
  • Reasons for immigration to America from Europe, including how people who had left prior would send letters as persuasion.
  • How families choosing to come to America had to narrow down their belongings to fit into one or two trunks.
  • The immigration journey taken by boat across the Atlantic: traveling to the port city, life on the boat, and the length of the journey.
  • Arrival in America and the dangers there as people moved across the country.
  • The change that immigration brought to the US and life in the US to the new immigrants.

The section also has a fictional map of the Larsons's journey from Sweden to Minnesota.

Items associated with Meet Kirsten

Book Covers


  • The map shown in the Looking Back section shows that it is quite possible the Larsons sailed out of the port of Sölvesborg.
  • A 35th anniversary edition of the the first edition book in parchment was released with the accompanying doll. Notably, changes are made to the book and the Looking Back section, though no story text is removed. Newer crisper images of Renee Graef's illustrations are used. The Looking Back section states that many--but not "nearly all"--Americans have an immigration story, acknowledging the truth of the involuntary immigration of enslaved Black people and recognition of Indigenous Americans in North America prior to white settlements. Images of real people are replaced with block prints and artwork, and the trunk image is changed to a more era-accurate trunk (as the previous one shows it was made in 1778). The phrase about the quarters on the ship is changed from a "ceiling so low that a man couldn't stand up straight" to "ceiling so low that many adults couldn't stand up straight", and a line is removed about bunks being smaller than the reader's bed.


  1. The story starts in June (Kirsten states in Happy Birthday, Kirsten! that her ninth birthday didn't have a celebration, as they were on the way to America) and ends around July.(Kirsten Learns a Lesson: In fact ever since July, when Kirsten and her family had come to live on Uncle Olav's farm...)
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