These Books Made Me

American Girl - Kirsten

July 27, 2021 Prince George's County Memorial Library System Season 1 Episode 4
These Books Made Me
American Girl - Kirsten
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We begin our first foray into the world of juvenile chapter series and the American Girls specifically with the young Swedish immigrant Kirsten Larson. Kirsten was one of the original three dolls released by Pleasant Company, the company that first created American Girl, and in this episode we cover all six - yes, that's right six - books in Kirsten's original series. In this episode, our hosts explore the not-so-great representation of indigenous people, expose the great doll conspiracy baked into the books, and ask whether Kirsten was really quite sorry enough for [spoiler alert] BURNING DOWN HER WHOLE HOUSE. And the bees thing. Plus, our community expert, Dr. Amy Klion of the National Institutes of Health, tells us just how accurate the cholera scene that traumatized all of us as children really was.

These Books Made Me is a podcast about the literary heroines who shaped us and is a product of the Prince George's County Memorial Library System podcast network. Stay in touch with us via Twitter @PGCMLS with #TheseBooksMadeMe or by email at TheseBooksMadeMe@pgcmls.info. For recommended readalikes and deep dives into topics related to each episode, visit our blog at https://pgcmls.medium.com/.                                       
                                       
We mentioned a lot of topics and articles in this episode. Here’s a brief list of some of them if you want to do your own further research:

Minnesota Historical Society, for more information about Minnesota's history: https://www.mnhs.org/
Information about the two tribes who lived on what is now called Minnesota: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Indigenous_Peoples_of_Minnesota#:~:text=Two%20major%20Native%20American%20tribes,once%20had%20reservation%20land%20there
Information about Swedish immigration to Minnesota:
https://www.mnopedia.org/swedish-immigration-minnesota
More information about Kirsten's bangs: https://americangirl.fandom.com/wiki/Kirsten_Larson and their historical inaccuracy: https://www.vice.com/en/article/qvddqq/a-short-uneven-history-of-bangs

Heather:

Hi, I'm Heather.

Kelsey:

I'm Kelsey.

Hannah:

I'm Hannah.

Emmy:

And I'm Emmy. And this is our podcast. These Books Made Me. Today, we're going to be starting our American Girl series of episodes, starting with Kirsten and her books. Friendly warning as always, this podcast contains spoilers. If you don't yet know how much house you can buy with grave robbed furs proceed with caution. Okay, everybody, was this anyone's first time reading these books?

Hannah:

It wasn't my first time, I read them as a kid. Full disclosure, I did not have the Kirsten doll. I had the Felicity doll, so I hope I'm not going to be kicked off the podcast, but my sister had Kirsten and so we both read, I think, all the books.

Heather:

We might want to mention that we do have two , uh , Kirsten doll guest stars with us today. Mine and Kelsey's.

Kelsey:

Yes, I have Kirsten. She's near and dear to my heart. She's the only American girl doll I had. So I'm really excited that she's kicking off our series. Um, and reading these books took me like all the way back. Like I saw the first picture of Kirsten and Marta with their like heads touching. And I was like, oh my God. I just remember, like, I wanted a friend like Marta so bad. And I like loved their relationship, even though in retrospect, there's like not a lot to it. But as a kid, I like loved it so much. Um, so yeah, yeah, this was really nice to go back and reread.

Emmy:

I feel the same. It's definitely not my first time reading Kirsten. When I was younger, it sounds like many of you, I read all of the American Girl books and I loved them so much and I re-read them. A lot of my friends read the books. Um, and we also , um, put on some of the American girl plays when I was a kid, which you will get a sneak preview of later in this podcast. Um, but doing the Kirsten play was extra fun because I had more friends who wanted to do it. Then there were parts in the play so we like wrote extra characters and stuff. So definitely a fan of American girl and definitely fan of Kirsten.

Heather:

So this is interesting to me because I also had plays like fundamentally tied into American Girl, but I did not have the official scripts like Emmy has brought us today. So I had two best friends when I was little, we had different American girl dolls and I actually had Samantha, not Kirsten. She was a later acquisition that my kids play with. Um, but we each had, Liz had Kirsten. I had Samantha and Katy had Molly and we would, I believe inspired by Marta's death in the, in the book, stage, these very elaborate plays. A nd there was always a character who died. Like someone always died on the journey, someone always, and no one wanted to be the dead person. So then we started making these dummies basically where we would stuff dresses that, u h, Liz's mom would get from like the thrift store. And that would be our deaths in the book, which actually is a lot like Old Jack later in the series where they're just there as a corpse, I guess

Kelsey:

So much inspiration comes from this book. Really.

Heather:

So how did your rereads this time compare to your memories of reading it when you were younger?

Kelsey:

Well, one of the funny things is like, so I I, I read Kirsten books a lot and I read Felicity's books a lot. And I found myself thinking that plots were in one book that were in the other because they're all very similar and a little generic. Uh, so like the birthing scene that is in this book, I thought was in Felicity and it turns out it, it is, but it's different, but it's kind of the same. So I, I don't know when I was a kid, I loved these books. And as, as an adult, you know, I still, I still enjoyed my experience, but if I didn't have the nostalgia, I don't know. I don't know how I would feel about it.

Hannah:

I mean, they're definitely very formulaic, which I think is a part of their appeal, but also, maybe it's a drawback too. I , I was reading these and I was amazed by some things I remembered clearly like down to like, you know, what, what Kirsten leaves in the mud for her friend that she , uh , meets in one of the later books we're going to discuss. U m, but I forgot like major plot point.

Emmy:

I've had a similar experience. I definitely vividly remember some of the illustrations of particularly the first book.

Kelsey:

Yes.

Emmy:

And even before rereading them, I knew that they were going to occur like during Marta's death, there are a few illustrations, particularly of the guys carrying her coffin away that really stuck out in my mind very vividly. And then the events of the later books kind of blur together for me, similarly to what Kelsey has said. So , um, yeah, there are some memorable parts, some not so memorable so revisiting the series as a whole has been interesting to think about what my mind has saved and what it hasn't.

Heather:

I also had significant like blur over time with these events, but these books made me feel old, y'all. Like my recollection of these as a kid, well, I remembered Marta dying -- which I think has scarred all of us on some level it sounds like-- but I really didn't remember much of anything else. Except I had this sort of general sense that Kirsten along with the other American Girls, they were really tough and they were brave and they were cool and they were fearless. Then I read it as an adult and I'm not of that mind anymore. Instead I was just reading it, being horribly disappointed with how irresponsible she was a lot of the time, which I, I feel like these are definitely, u m, books meant for childhood that, you know, they work for an eight year old a lot better than they do for a n adult.

Hannah:

I mean, I think the illustrations, I mean, I kind of want to talk about those. They feel like they almost have more depth than the books do. And I think you were saying that you really remember that picture of her with her forehead pressed to Marta's, you know, and I saw that. I was like, oh yeah, I remember reading this. And you know, when they're inside the rope coil , uh , but you know, as I was going through the book, like the photos really jumped out at me. And I remember looking at those photos for like, for the photos, I'm sorry, illustrations for the first time. And like, I mean, I have just vivid memories of those much more so than the plot,

Heather:

But there are photos too, right? And back matter of the books, there's the, like, here's the non - fiction part that supports the fictional text. You just read. And there were photos. I had completely forgotten that that part of the book existed.

Kelsey:

Me too! Yeah. No memory of that at all.

Hannah:

I remember the illustrations, but not the photos and the historical info in the back. That part, I just completely skipped over. Apparently.

Heather:

Yeah. We were talking a bit too about how the illustrations changed from the original release of this series to sort of the current updated additions. I much preferred the originals. I thought that the look of those illustrations was really nice. Um, but I was very confused because the beginning of the books start with these portraits, essentially, of Kirsten and her family. And then it says, "and friends", but the "and friends" is also her family, which I did not understand.

Kelsey:

Yeah. It just goes back to that formula thing. Can't be family and family,

Heather:

But she does gain friends... well she also loses friends... along the way

Hannah:

Like one per book.

Kelsey:

Like all her friends pretty much are gone by the end.

Heather:

This is true. I mean, Marta...

Kelsey:

Marta dies, Singing Bird has to leave.

Heather:

Uh , and Mary .

Kelsey:

That family has to leave...

Heather:

also goes to the Oregon trail, which got to be honest. I wasn't all that hopeful about them.

Hannah:

No.

Heather:

I played that game. I know how that goes.

Hannah:

I remember what happens when you ford the river,

Heather:

You die of dysentery, always.

Kelsey:

Always.

Heather:

So Hannah, you did a little bit of research on the Pleasant Company history.

Hannah:

Yes. I did. Um, let me tell you what I found. Okay. So in , uh, 1986 , uh , 44 year old Pleasant Rowland founded a toy company with the name of Pleasant Company, which would soon spawn the American girl doll empire. So according to a 2020 Forbes profile of Rowland, it was a list of , uh , self-made women from a financial standpoint. Um, it indicated that she was motivated by not being able to find dolls for her nieces that she liked. And she was also inspired by a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. So she wanted options , uh , beyond Cabbage Patch and Barbie something a kind of in between , um, that she could , uh, you know, that maybe would be educational as well as fun and kind of aimed at like that, I guess, eight to 12 age range. Um, a timeline I found gave the creation year for the original three American Girls as 1985, which makes sense with the company being founded in 1986, they released Kirsten, Samantha and Molly the same year. Um, so Rowland , uh, created Pleasant Company with the 1.2 million she had earned as a textbook author. Um, Pleasant Company would become a hugely successful business , uh , like 300 million in sales. And in 1998 , uh, it was sold to Mattel for 700 million. They then changed the name of the company to American Girl officially. The iconic dolls that they make are 18 inches tall and are intended to appeal to girls eight and up. So the original three , um, Kirsten, Samantha and Molly were the start of what is now called the historical line. And they were Kirsten uh , her , uh, set in 19, 1890 - sorry, 1854, Samantha , uh , 1904 --so the turn of the century, and then Molly , uh, in 1944. They each came with six books that told their stories and the stories all follow a similar pattern... We'll have more about those later. Each doll had, has a plethora of accessories and outfits that could be purchased. Um, Pleasant Company also , uh, introduced pretty soon after the dolls were released historical clothing for humans, so that the owner of the dolls and the doll could match in 1998, they went from a mail order catalog only to opening up an in-person retail store in Chicago. And then they expanded from there. Um, the Kirsten doll and Kirsten who we're talking about today was archived in 2010, although for , uh , the Pleasant Company now, American Girl dolls, 35th anniversary, she was brought back. So you can buy that right now , uh , for the they're call him the birthday collection , um, for the low, low price of $150, you can own a Kirsten doll that is from the website, quote, "almost just like the original doll from 1986!" You can also get a mini Kirsten doll for twenty - five dollars, which comes with a tiny, albeit abridged version of her book, "Meet Kirsten".

Kelsey:

All right, thanks Hannah. So now we're going to dive into a little summary of each book and we're going to do it a little differently for the American Girl series. We're going to summarize , um , each one of the six books, and then we're going to discuss the plot of that book. So we don't get them all mixed up because as we've already said, they're a little easy to jumble together. So we're going to start off with our first book in the original six, "Meet Kirsten". So in this book, Kirsten Larson an eight year old girl from Sweden travels to America, with her family and the family of her friend, Marta in 1854. After a stop in New York, in which Kirsten uses her smarts to get help finding her family after briefly losing them, they take a train and then another boat. On that second boat, Marta contracts, cholera, and dies. Here's his family can not afford to hire a cab, so they must leave most of their prized possessions behind and walk the last leg of their journey. Before finally settling on Kirsten's uncle's farm in Minnesota. What did we think about this one?

Heather:

Well, full disclosure, none of these titles made any sense to me in terms of aligning with the events of the stories that also I had to rename all of these books. So I would remember which was which, and my notes and I, I called this one, "The One Where Kirsten Quickly Forgets Her Dead Friend " . She pretty instantly gets over Marta's death, which I... Do you think Lars felt bad because he, he said, quote, "no one on our ship has cholera!" and totally jinxed this girl to death. She almost immediately died.

Hannah:

He should feel bad

Kelsey:

That is not a good look.

Hannah:

Totally jinxed her.

Heather:

Yeah. Tough look for Lars.

Emmy:

The thing about mentioning cholera in the book, something that I noticed, because the books are really, really brief. We've all mentioned a lot of dramatic stuff happens in them. So something that really jumped out to me on the reread was how, like over the head, the foreshadowing is that they hit you with, they like mentioned cholera every other chapter, just to get you ready for the fact that it may happen. And it happens with big events later on too. But Lars saying that was one of the examples where they were like, remember cholera, remember, and then you have to hint, hint.

Kelsey:

Yeah. When, when we first started talking about, you know, doing the series, in which ones we would read, like my literal first memory of these books is cholera. Like, that's the first word that comes to mind because I very distinctly remember reading this book for the first time. And then coming downstairs to ask my mom and my grandma who were there at the time, what cholera was because after reading the book, I still didn't really know. And I was very traumatized by the fact that this child just died very abruptly. And then we never talked about it again.

Hannah:

Well, they don't explain it all, like how it works. They're like, oh, she has a fever and her stomach hurts. But like, I remember, like I remember vividly as we all did, it sounds like, you know, Marta dying from cholera. But I remember reading this book going, okay, she dies. I don't know what cholera is, but it's clearly deadly. And then I remember watching, I don't know, some movie my parents were watching. I don't even know what it was, but they had like an entire dining room full of people just die from cholera. And my mother's like, they died from cholera and I'm thinking, what is cholera? Like? It was like, you know, that meme about quicksand? They're like, when you're a kid and you're like, "oh, this is very dangerous. I don't really understand how it works!" Like, it felt like that to me, except cholera is actually more real than quicksand.

Heather:

How many children were really like traumatized by this and thought, like, "I don't feel good today. My stomach hurts. Hope it's not cholera!"

Kelsey:

I know. But I think that's what the scary part was... Like, it seemed like a flu. Like, it just seemed like a normal, like illness like that. You could just, like, you might have already experienced...

Heather:

She was gone in a flash!

Kelsey:

Like they didn't really distinguish it from other illnesses. So like, yeah. Then I was like, oh my God, like what, what was it that killed her? Can I get that? Like how .

Emmy:

I feel like with this first book overall, there are a lot of really intense, big picture things that happens. And for me comparing it with the other American girl books, usually the "Meet whoever" book is the first book in the series and it just gives you like a general introduction to who the character is in their normal life. And for Kirsten, it's so different from the others because she is not only moving from America, she loses her best friend. A lot of stuff happens really quickly. So I just think it's interesting as the first book and an introduction to her character to have so much stuff happen to her at once. That's why it's the most memorable to me because so much happened .

Hannah:

That's a really good point. Like she's not starting out in a stable "here we are in our farm in Sweden" like we don't really find out what the, I mean, I , they say, "oh, it's for a better life " , but what does that mean? Are they starving in Sweden? Like, you know, that's just totally glossed over. Like we, we don't, we, we see her at a time of massive change in her life. Like, as you were saying that it's not the same as some of the other books.

Kelsey:

Yeah. Well, and so, yeah, so she, they, her friend dies and then she immediately has to leave her like most prized possession in a trunk in some random city and like hoof it on her feet to wherever she's living. That I was very stressed on that during that scene as well. Like that was a lot to come from the cholera thing. And then she has to just like, I remember as a kid thinking, sorry, was so cool. And like wanting my own, Sari doll. And then for her to like us to just meet Sari and then for it to be like, "okay, bye, Sari, not going to see you again for awhile."

Emmy:

I really did want to bring up the dolls because I thought it was very interesting that she and Marta play with their dolls. She goes Anna and Lisbeth, her cousins, also have dolls that they play with. I was wondering if this may be subtle marketing for the American girl dolls for people who read the books and see how much fun they're having with their dolls, their dolls like comfort them when they're going through all these stressful changeful events. And then they can still play with them. But like, as a reader, you'd be like, this is great. I would love to have one. And then it'd be like, "You can have one, it's an American Girl doll! You can buy it!"

Kelsey:

Oh my God it totally was. It totally worked.

Heather:

She fits in the trunk too. Yes. Just like Sari.

Hannah:

It's like guerrilla marketing.

Heather:

This is like, it's very meta. The doll of the doll, who is your doll. There's a lot.

Kelsey:

And also, I just want to say she brings up Sari a lot more than she ever brings up Marta.

Hannah:

She really does!

Heather:

She does almost immediately get over Marta's death because then she moves and she has Lisbeth and Anna, and it's like, "you're my new best friends!"

Kelsey:

Whatevs.

Heather:

Nice knowing you Marta.

Kelsey:

Okay. So let's move to "Kirsten Learns a Lesson". So in this book, Kirsten begins to attend school and is struggling to keep up with her English overwhelmed by her strict teacher who wants her to learn a poem by heart. On her way, home from school, one day, Kirsten befriends an indigenous girl named Singing Bird by exchange, exchanging secret gifts with her. What did we think about this one?

Hannah:

Well, I know they were saying that Ms. Winston was a nice teacher, but she was super mean.

Kelsey:

Ugh, she's the worst,

Hannah:

You know , I wonder, I hesitate to wonder what Mr. Coogan -- was that the teacher who fell off his horse or something? -- would have been like.

Heather:

Um, well, Mary said, all of their teachers prior to Miss Winston were awful.

Hannah:

Right. So if so, Miss Winston's the nice one...

Heather:

If she's the high point...mmm

Hannah:

My mind was blown when... I didn't remember that she was only 19. Or maybe when I was a kid, 19 seemed a lot older than it does now. But like, you know, and then Amos is like the same age and I'm like, this has gotta be super awkward to have like a 19 year old teaching, another 19 year old in this, you know, sort of small , uh, a small like pioneer school environment.

Kelsey:

And I was confused about the Amos thing too, because I kind of remembered him having a bigger role on the books. And like, I kind of felt like he was set up to have a bigger role. And then like, he just never mentioned again, like.

Heather:

He just disappears

Kelsey:

Like, why did we need to learn about the 19 year old in the class?

Heather:

It felt like it was supposed to be foreshadowing, right? I read it. And I was like, oh, this is a meet cute between Amos and Ms. Winston. And this is going to go somewhere. No. It doesn't.

Emmy:

I felt the same way. And I, I think I was personally mixing it up with the Anne of Green Gables series where a teacher does get together with one of the students.

Heather:

Ohhh with Prissy Andrews!

Emmy:

It's the same thing where the teacher is sort of young and the students can be almost the same age. So I was thinking, oh, they probably get together if not in this book, one of the later books, but they don't really mention Miss Winston after the fourth book. And they don't mention Amos at all.

Kelsey:

And I didn't appreciate it.

Heather:

Yeah. This book was the worst of the six, I think. And it was the most problematic, which we'll talk about later because yikes. Yeah.

Kelsey:

We'll, we'll get to Singing Bird.

Heather:

My alternate title for this one was "The One with the Well-intentioned, but Problematic Depiction of Native Americans" and I think that pretty much sums it up.

Hannah:

Yeah, it's accurate. Yeah. Okay. So "Kirsten's Surprise"-- Kirsten wants her father to pick up the belongings that they had to leave behind when they first immigrated from a nearby town so that she and her cousins can surprise their family with a St Lucia Day celebration. When Papa and Kirsten finally set off, they encountered dangerous conditions and almost get stuck in the snow. Kirsten must be brave and help them find their way home using the knowledge she learned from Singing Bird.

Heather:

So this is "The One with the Catastrophic Knee Injury and a Blizzard." Lot of drama in this one. Also just stop with the trunks. I ,... it was a lot. 19 pages she was talking about the trunks. These are short books.

Hannah:

Yes.

Kelsey:

I don't know. I was, I was proud of her for being so brave and leading the, the, the sleigh home that was clearly very difficult. And I couldn't imagine myself doing that. I hate snow. Uh, but eh... Yeah.

Emmy:

I feel like the whole thing with the trunks Kirsten was being really, really annoying about it. I do think they've were trying to show like her mom constantly says people are more important than things. And she that's something that they mentioned in the first book and her mom is like continually saying it. And I think they are trying to show that like, for them, since they're so far away from the people that they know, like back in Sweden, the things like represent more than just things they're like connections to people that they have. So I can see how it was important for her to get that so that they could have their celebration, but...

Heather:

Yeah, I'm not sure that Kirsten ever internalizes the "people are more important than things" lesson , because she's always talking about things. She's like talking about her doll all the time. She's much more concerned about, Sari, and remembering or remembering Sari than she is about remembering Marta, then the quilt... She's really obsessed with the quilt. Oh yeah . And it's more about the things,

Emmy:

Which I think it's true for kids. Like it sorta makes sense.

Heather:

Well, and I guess when you really don't have much at all, because you burn your house down, you really care about the few things you do have, but oh boy...

Emmy:

Will agree for me, the St. Lucia day celebration at the end stood out a lot. Um, especially for me as a kid, our family also celebrated St. Lucia a day. Um, and my family's side of the family comes from Norway where they also celebrate it. So for me, I had memories of like doing that celebration and wearing the little crown with like the candles, but we used electric candles because of the fire hazard. Um, but it was interesting to me to see in a book, something that was a family tradition for me as well. It was kind of cool.

Hannah:

Yeah. I have similar experience, although to be perfectly honest, although like there's a Scandinavian , um , background in my family. I don't know if my mother got the Kirsten books and doll for my sister. And then we celebrated St. Lucia, like, St. Lucia Day with, you know, we had like Swedish buns with saffron and , um, the candles. And I asked my sister if they were real candles. And she said she couldn't remember them, but they might've been. So , um, we might've.

Kelsey:

Living on the edge.

Hannah:

Yes. Burned our hair at some point. But I don't know if, I don't know if my mom was reading the books with us with like, let's celebrate it too. You know, you have Swedish ancestry and we've read this book. So I don't know which came first in my family to be entirely honest. I should ask about that.

Kelsey:

That's kind of cool if it inspired a new tradition and connection to your heritage.

Hannah:

Yeah. It's a little backwards possibly, but it's still kind of fun. We enjoyed it. So the food was delicious. The candles were pretty,

Emmy:

The bread with the saffron is really good.

Hannah:

Oh my God .

Emmy:

We used to put orange and cranberries.

Hannah:

Sorry what?

Emmy:

Also used to put orange and cranberries in the bread. And then we make it into a braid and the saffrons on it. It's really good.

Hannah:

We didn't do that. I want to try that.

Emmy:

You have to try and make it again that like, it will be delicious.

Kelsey:

Okay. So the next book is "Happy Birthday, Kirsten!" Um, and a lot happens in this book. So there's a tornado scare, a barn raising, Kirsten's mother and their cat Missy gives birth, and they celebrate Kirsten's birthday. Kirsten also gets her friends engaged in a quilting bee, but Kirsten is unable to keep up because of the additional chores she must do to help her mother now that the baby has arrived. And I will say, I think growing up, this might've been my favorite book because I really liked Kirsten's outfit on the cover, her spring outfit. Um, and like her little apron. And I think I had a cookbook where you could make the like, treats that they would have had at her birthday party. I feel like there was something with lemon involved. I... That seems wrong now that I think about it. They probably wouldn't have lemon in Minnesota, but I just, I, I have like vague, like fuzzy memories of like trying to recreate her birthday party at some point. So I think that happened in my life, but unsure. What did we feel about this one?

Emmy:

Her birthday outfit was very cute. She got to wear her hair down also.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I loved her hair . Yep .

Heather:

It was the pink and white stripes, right?

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Heather:

Yeah. That was a good outfit.

Kelsey:

Yeah. And her hair, like my hair has a very similar texture to hers, especially when I was younger. So I think I respected that as well. Like the light blonde waves.

Hannah:

and the birthday wreath I thought was really pretty. Yeah. We had candles last book. And now we have , uh, you know, flowers. That's probably safer.

Emmy:

I really liked the quilting plot line in this book. Um, I used to do a lot of sewing as a kid, actually for the Kirsten plays my friends and I sewed little bonnets to where that matched hers. So I used to really like sewing and quilting, and I feel like a birthday where your friends get together and sit down and everyone is sewing a quilt sounds awesome.

Heather:

Hm. I think this was probably my favorite of the books too. Um, even though in my head canon, it's called "The One with the Boring Tornado and a Baby." There's a lot of dark topics. U h, we get maternal and fetal deaths a re brought up. There's the lady that had the twins and expires during childbirth and loses one of the babies and then the other one gets raised as the child of the grandparents. I believe.

Hannah:

Yeah.

Heather:

There's the tornado scare. There's a lot going on in this one, but the friendships with the girls and the quilt, I thought it was really nice. I thought it was sweet that they knew Kirsten was feeling left out because she was working with the baby and not going to school. And that they did the quilt for her. This one was nice.

Hannah:

And I mean, I'm like yeah...

Emmy:

I feel like I enjoyed the kitten plot a lot too. I love the cute little kitten illustrations. This, I do think starts off a new character trait for Kirsten. We haven't really seen at all before, which is she loves animals, which we see in the next two books. And I think sometimes she doesn't really handle it that well and perhaps her giving the kitten milk is just the start of a lot of bad decisions related to animals that Kirsten makes.

Kelsey:

Kirsten, loves animals but animals don't love her. Yeah. Okay. So then after her birthday, we have Kirsten saves the day. Kirsten discovers a bee tree while playing in the woods by their cabin and is almost attacked by a bear after trying to get the honey from the tree by herself. Foolish Kirsten.

Heather:

She didn't save the day! This is what I'm talking about with the titles. She created a terrible situation and luckily didn't die.

Kelsey:

She saves the day because she gets them more money

Heather:

For the honey. She also gets her dog maimed.

Kelsey:

That's true.

Hannah:

There's an alternate reality here where the mama bear l ike kills her and the dog and her, was it Lars?

Heather:

Peter.

Kelsey:

Peter.

Hannah:

Peter. Um , and you know, she's just incredibly lucky that that did not happen. They even like say in the book like bears can climb trees. The bear just shows not to climb the tree.

Kelsey:

Yeah. And I, I found, I found myself really interested to by like she was just going to like kill all the bees and take their honey and really should have like preserved the, the hive and all the combs and like properly stored them. Obviously lack of foresight there, but I thought that was a good lesson of like, do your research, you know, preserve the wildlife as much as you can, maybe get some help if you don't know things. It's okay not to know things.

Heather:

Yeah. Kirsten's hubris in this one was nearly fatal.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Heather:

This is another one where I read it through adult eyes. And I was just like, what are you doing? Why, why, why do you think you know what you're doing with these bees? You clearly don't know what you're doing with the bees! I don't know. And then the bear and I felt so bad for the dog, Caro.

Hannah:

Yeah, Caro.

Kelsey:

Aw, Caro.

Emmy:

Here's the thing Kirsten said, I found this bee tree and she like writes her name on it, but it was really the dog that found it. So no credit to the dog.

Hannah:

The honey belongs to him! Well belongs to the bees , but belongs to Caro more than it belongs to Kirsten.

Heather:

And the dog protects him from the bear too, and gets maimed in the process and no credit to the dog

Emmy:

It should be Caro Saves the Day, really.

Kelsey:

They should have used the profits to buy Caro like a nice juicy bone or something. Rather than a hat.

Heather:

Definitely just a lot of Caro erasure in this, this book.

Kelsey:

Justice for Caro!

Heather:

I was super disappointed in Kirsten in this book. I gotta be honest.

Hannah:

So was Papa. He was real mad. He was like as scary, almost as scary as the bear.

Kelsey:

I mean, maybe her dad skipped the bee lesson... or the bear lesson

Heather:

But she had seen him work with the bees! Because then she also mentioned like getting smoke, which was foreshadowing the fire in the next book. It's like Kirsten is a pyro stop .

Hannah:

Kirsten. The Firebug.

Kelsey:

Yeah, there is a lot of recurring themes here animals not faring well and fire not working out well. Well,

Heather:

And wasn't even just the bear in this one, like the bees were real danger.

Hannah:

Yeah.

Heather:

Can you imagine if either of those children had been swarmed by bees?

Hannah:

It would have been like the plot of "My Girl."

Heather:

It would've! Anaphylactic shock and Peter is Macaulay Culkin-ed off of this mortal coil.

Kelsey:

Speaking of trauma that we've all (laughs) Oh my goodness. Okay. So then the last one I have is "Changes for Kirsten". So while out trapping furs in the woods with her brother and his friend, John, Kirsten finds and rescues and injured baby raccoon, who proceeds to wreak havoc and set the Larson family cabin on fire when he heals and he's accidentally let loose, they'll need quite a bit of money to rebuild or buy a new home, but Kirsten and Lars make a surprise discovery in the woods that just might solve their problems.

Heather:

This book was wild.

Hannah:

Plot twist!

Kelsey:

It took a turn.

Heather:

Wow. This one, I titled "The One Where Kirsten Burned Down the House and has a Sleepover with a Corpse". What is happening in this book? She burns down the house. After taking the raccoon that Lars tells her, "don't take it home. It's a wild animal." No one even seems to be upset with her, for burning down the house. And it really was her fault. Then they go like waltzing around and find a dead man in a cave and then steal all his belongings.

Kelsey:

Okay. So the raccoon definitely died, right?

Heather:

Oh, I think so. For sure

Kelsey:

It's like 100 percent crispy.

Hannah:

Along with her doll. T hat was the second fiddle doll to Sari.

Heather:

Which was basically just kindling. It was made of husks. And straw.

Hannah:

Ooh.

Kelsey:

Yeah. This one was, this was a stressful book. So, so first there was a fire and then... we see a dead man.

Heather:

We see a dead man. We sleep in a cave with a dead man. We decide to take all of the dead man's stuff because, well, he didn't have any kids.

Hannah:

He would have wanted them to have it. They figured that out

Heather:

That was bizarre too . He didn't even know them!.

Kelsey:

That they never talked to.

:

Right?

Hannah:

They're like he wants us to have it, his soul is in heaven. And he'd want us to have his furs.

Heather:

This is what Old Jack would want! It's like, no , you've never met him.

Kelsey:

This dude slept in a cave. He didn't care if you got a four bedroom house with windows!

Hannah:

He really didn't care. He probably would have been annoyed with the kids.

Heather:

Old Jack would've thought she was very irresponsible to take the raccoon in the house and would not have wanted her to get all of his furs to buy a new house after she burned the old one down

Emmy:

Here's the thing for the old Jack plot line. I was again thinking of foreshadowing. And they mentioned old Jack earlier on when they see his old traditional trap, not like ours, which are made of metal because we use modern ones. I thought he was going to help them out by showing them old traditional ways. Like, "look at this folks. I can show you how I do my trapping. It's a lot more successful than yours" but no, they just find him and they never get to talk to him at all. So there was foreshadowing for old Jack, but not in the way we were expecting in any way.

Heather:

He only appears as a corpse.

Emmy:

I just feel like for this book in general, it's so all over the place. And for me comparing it to other American Girl Changes books, which is the last book in the series. Usually in the other books, there are like life changing life, altering historical events that occur in them. Am I allowed to say spoilers for a couple of the other American books?

Kelsey:

Hit it.

Emmy:

Okay. So in "Changes for Addy" , the Civil War ends and in "Changes for Molly" her dad comes home from the war and in "Changes for Samantha" she moves to New York with her aunt and uncle who have adopted her. So it's all like big, they're all doing like huge things in their life.

Kelsey:

Well, and like , they get this new house, like, obviously that's a change, but it's not like they were ever talking about like, oh man, this house is too small for us. And we're cramped. And like, we need more space or like, we don't have the , uh , kitchen that we need or whatever. It's just like, "Our house burned down. Now we have a new one." Yeah. Not a huge change.

Heather:

Each episode, our Intrepid researcher will enchant us with scintillating factoids related to our book. It's time to dive in and explore Ella's Ephemera.

Speaker 3:

Hi there everyone I'm Ella and this is my ephemera. The part of the podcast where I tell you about some of the neat things I've learned while doing research. I started reading the American girl book series in the middle of my transition from picture books to chapter books. So you can imagine why the illustrations have always stuck with me, but there's something special about the way Kirsten's family and friends are drawn in two group photographs. In the beginning of her books, let's imagine for a moment that these were real photographs taken in the 18 hundreds, they would have used a process called the daguerreotype. The daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process and was widely used during the 1840s and 1850s. I won't bore you with the long process of taking one of these photographs, but the gist was that the photographer needed extremely bright light and a long exposure time. It was a difficult combination to achieve in one early attempt at a portrait, a Swedish amateur daguerreotypist caused his sitter to nearly lose an eye because of practically staring into the sun during the five minute exposure. Because of this, group photos were incredibly rare if they existed at all. That might be why Kirsten and our family were illustrated into individual portraits when the central series went through a revision, thanks for joining me on this deep dive I'm Ella , and this was my ephemera .

Hannah:

So I wanted to share a brief history of Minnesota immigration between 1850 to 1930. There was a huge wave of Swedish immigrants to Minnesota. So Kirsten, his family would have at the start of that, it was called the Minnesota territory until they became a state in 1858. The main occupants of the land that would become Minnesota were the indigenous Dakota and Ojibwe people. We wanted to talk a little about how these books hold up. And I think there are some questions about how well the books hold up in terms of its depiction of the time and of native American characters in history. What do you all think?

Kelsey:

I feel like , um, I described it earlier as cringe and I think someone else wrote that in their notes. And I, I just, I was very stressed to the entire time reading the , um, Singing Bird plot line. Uh , I started out stressed because Ms . Winston literally was like, introducing this plot by calling them savages and like really just, I thought it was going to go that way. And then instead it just made a very like white saviory kind of turn, which like was clearly like well-intentioned, but just came off really terrible and like generic Native American-like peoples? Like, then there's never any mention of like what specific tribe they're part of all of the like cultural practices that they have are just very generic. Like "someone told me once what one tribe does and I'm just assuming all tribes do this." Like, it was just very gross , uh, and not great.

Heather:

Yeah. I agree. The second book with the Singing Bird storyline was real problematic. There's the monolithic indigenous culture thing as, as though that can be described in that way. Uh, there's nothing specific about it at all. It's just very generic. There's also a lot of weird, I don't know the dialogue, the way that the author writes the dialogue for Brave Elk and Singing Bird is gross. Like, it's this very clipped, "You are yellow hair. You stay!" That's infantilizing. It's probably not correct linguistically for how somebody with limited English would speak even. It was awful. Then there's also the like fetishization of Native American culture writ large as the author sees it. So the naming conventions, the , um, you know , the tie into the land, the leaving as sort of a nomadic move to follow the herd, it was painful. I, again, my least favorite of the books, I don't think it held up well at all. And then there was really, no... I was thinking in the end with the non-fiction part of the book where they're doing the snapshot, there would be something in there surely, since the whole book sort of hinged on these plot points around Singing Bird. Nothing. Yeah.

Kelsey:

Well, yeah. And like, it bothered me that , um, that, or confused me that Kirsten would speak English to her when English is not even her native language or like a comfortable language. I know the whole plot of the book is that she's learning English, but like, it just makes more sense to me that she would be like, this person doesn't know English anyway. So let me speak comfortably to her and like, or teach her some of my Swedish that like actually is my culture and tradition and not like this random language. Like , it just, it was just very like weird to me.

Emmy:

Yeah. I definitely agree with everyone's sentiments to go back to something Heather had said earlier, it really did stand out to me as well that the back matter of the books did not go into any indigenous history in any way. Um, I, when I read, meet Kirsten, the first book , um, there's a whole section about immigrants in America and there is a sentence in there that says "most people who live in the United States today have relatives who are immigrants." Um , and so it kind of just paints the picture that like, that's the main group we're talking about. And that's like, most people who live there today had immigrant relatives, leaving out people who come from indigenous descent. And then in "Kirsten Learns a Lesson" um , the only subject of the historical information in the back is about school. So it's about like schools that what Kirsten would have gone to, but it really doesn't go into the specifics of , um, the indigenous plot line in any way. So it just kind of, as you mentioned, lumps it together and kind of glosses over there's no research or like history into that aspect of it .

Hannah:

We did some research into the history of bangs and in this time period, they really wouldn't have had blunt a cut across the forehead bangs. I think they would have had like maybe a little curls on the side, but I think it would have been like a center part or something like that. So , um, we did a little research into this and , um, the first three dolls , uh, Kirsten, Samantha and Molly , which all have the same bangs , um, were released with the same wig. So , um, here, I'm going to quote from the American girl doll, a Wiki , um, "Kirsten is portrayed with bang fringe and has been since release. However, at the time bangs were not fashionable for most girls or women with the prevailing style being center parted hair pulled back. Other girls and women shown in her series do not have bangs." The theory is that rather than change the wig design dramatically for newly designed doll, she was given the same type of hairstyle as Samantha Parkington and Molly McIntire. So let's talk about the bangs.

Heather:

They always seemed like they were there to cover up the headpiece . I mean, you can, on the old dolls Kelsey's is probably like mine. You can like, see the sort of like skullcap wig that's pulled down. So like if you pull Kirsten's bangs back, she looks really strange. I mean, it looks like her scalp is separating from her skull if you don't give her bangs . So it seemed like a manufacturing choice. Always like even when I had the doll, the bangs seemed like they were there to cover the way that the hair was attached to the head.

Kelsey:

Yeah. As someone with tryptophobia and doesn't like looking at small holes, the wig is very dist-- uh, upsetting to me to look at. But, u h, yeah. I mean, they're very iconic of American girl dolls. Like I'm having trouble picturing ones that don't have bangs. I know that there are some, but like, I think in my head, I just mentally put bangs on them.

Heather:

Felicity has the side part with the little curls and I think she was the first one that didn't have bangs . She was the fourth doll released, right? So I think she was the first non-bank doll.

Hannah:

I think that's right.

Emmy:

I think with the bangs too, it's interesting that it's also reflected in the books illustrations, like Kirsten, not only Kirsten has bangs, but all of the other, like a little girl, some of her friends, they have bangs also they're all wearing different braids. So everyone has their own like unique braid, but it like follows. I don't know if the , the doll I guess, was designed first, but they made everyone else kind of follow it in the drawings,

Kelsey:

It makes me wonder if the like, looped braid is it , is that like a traditional Swedish hairstyle? Because she's the only one who wears her braids like that. And it's like a very her style, but several people have the like braid over the top of the head thing.

Heather:

Yeah. There's crown braids. Like there's the Dutch braid on the one girl in an image.

Kelsey:

Also, interestingly in my book, no one has portrayed with bangs. No, none of her family.

Heather:

The illustrations do change between the additions, those original ones versus the more updated ones. They have a very different look to them. I don't know. I mean, bangs seem wildly impractical if you're a pioneer, I have to say as a person with bangs, keeping up with your bangs would not be fun. Living.

Hannah:

Curling them, styling them...

Heather:

Especially like in the summer, they would just stick to your face all the time.

Hannah:

They have her complaining about her, like cotton gingham cap, they'll get sweaty and stuck to her face and her , the bangs would just be worse. I would think.

Kelsey:

I will say her bangs are really thick and luscious. Like she has some good bangs.

Heather:

She does. It's a heavy fringe.

Kelsey:

Yeah. So she's got that going for her at least. But yeah. I mean, it's interesting, like just this idea of historical accuracy in general and like how much matters and what matters. I definitely found myself and I definitely didn't think about this as a kid, but like, as an adult wondering kind of, like you mentioned earlier, Hannah, like, why are they going to Minnesota? What made Swedish families pick Minnesota? Why were they leaving Sweden? Like how many people, like all these things, like I never really thought about as a kid, but as an adult , um, it did raise some questions for me that, you know, I think are good, like that's what historical fiction should do, like make you want to learn more about the topic or about that time period.

Hannah:

Totally.

Kelsey:

I mean, I definitely learned from the book that like, you should leave a baby come alone because a mom will be close behind. I feel like that's a good survival skill.

Hannah:

Yeah. Well they , and then they have the baby raccoon later on and her and mama says , um, you know, sometimes they carry diseases and I'm thinking is the next book going to be, "Kirsten has Rabies"

Heather:

Rabies!

Hannah:

That would be very dark.

Kelsey:

I mean, I think this was one of the first times that I became aware that there were like other holidays in general, but also other than the ones that I celebrated or that like my friends celebrated. Um, and definitely the first time that I became aware that like different people had different traditions, particularly around like Christmas time. Like I knew about Hanukkah and Christmas and that was it. And like, I think that was really exciting and interesting for me to be like, oh, like there's like all these different, like worlds happening that I was not aware of. I think that's why I wanted the outfit because it was so interesting to me and like visually so beautiful. Like the pictures of that, that scene in the book , um, it was just really exciting to read as a kid.

Emmy:

I do know a little bit about Why the outfit is important and like how that tradition got started. I don't know if we want to go in to that. Okay. Briefly St . Lucy , um, lived in Italy, like in Rome during the time of persecution for Christians . So there was like a community underground that she would bring food to and like have candles. So I don't know if she like wore them on her head or what, but like she would go underground into like catacombs where people are hiding out and she would bring food to them. Um, so often in artwork she's like depicted, it's really dark. And she was like wearing candles. And I think symbolically, it ties in with like winter and then having the candles there. So that's why they it's worn on the head.

Hannah:

So Kirsten as a role model, I can kind of guess what some of our answers might be based on earlier discussion. What do we think? I , I don't know if I would take Kirsten as an amazing role model, although I want to cut her some slack because she's, you know, 10 at the most.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I mean , I think for me, like, she seemed very , uh, mature. Mature isn't the right word, but like, I don't know, like the whole, like her taking care of her sister and doing errands for her mom and coordinating the quilting bee. Like that all seemed very grown up to me when I was reading that as a kid. And so I think for me that was really like aspirational, like , um, or admirable, maybe that she was like doing all those things and like able to handle it , um, as an adult. Yes, she's a little more reckless than I remember, but I think it's a very honest, like she, she is figuring stuff out. She's like fumbling through the world, she's testing her boundaries. She doesn't , uh, like she handles making mistakes with grace. Like she's not very like down on herself when she, she messes makes some pretty serious mistakes.

Heather:

(laughs) when she burns their house down...

Kelsey:

Which is admirable, I guess. Um, and she's like, she advocates for herself. She wants to do the, like, she wants to go in the sled with her father. She wants to go trapping. Like, I think that, I think I thought that was pretty cool as a kid that like, she wanted to like get dirty and do the tough stuff that the quote unquote boy stuff, you know ,.

Emmy:

Um , for me, I feel like as a young child, she was definitely, I sort of looked up to her as someone who is really resourceful and kind of , uh , makes things do with what she has. Um, I personally, as a kid loved making little things and like she and her friends would make tiny like objects for her dolls. Um , later on she does the quilting and stuff like that. Um, so I think in that aspect, and then also the aspect of her kind of , um, just really learning how to be herself and be comfortable with moving to a completely new location, learning how to communicate in a different language. Um, that's something I feel like she overcomes over time. So those are the aspects of her, they are really admirable other aspects, as we've all mentioned, she makes a lot of mistakes, which I think is realistic as a kid, you encounter situations that you don't really know what to do in and so she kind of has ideas that she really wants. I think a lot of her decisions are motivated by wanting to do something for her family. So that too, I think is something that can be admired, even if, sometimes it causes a lot more problems than it solves. So I think she's kind of well-rounded in that, like, she has some really strong and like good intentions and then they don't always pan out.

Hannah:

We all have these vivid memories of reading the books and playing with the dolls. Why did American Girl resonate so much with us?

Kelsey:

I think we'll probably uncover more of this as we read more of the books and find like what those common themes are. Maybe we should revisit this question every time and see what new lessons we've learned. But.

Hannah:

I agree.

Kelsey:

I think just after this first series , um, there's something comforting about like how, how quickly each book resolves, like stuff happens and then, you know, resolves, you move on to the next one. There's like familiar plot elements, but you're including this historical component that makes it kind of like interesting and different. And then the fact that you can like have a physical object that ties you to the stuff that you're reading, I think is really exciting when you're a kid.

Heather:

Yeah. I agree with that. And I think also there was something very appealing to me about the girls' stories. They did things. They did important things. It didn't seem silly. Right. It wasn't just stories about, "I got in a fight with my friend at school and then, you know, we had an argument, then we got back together and it was fine." Like they're very, plotty, you know , there's big drama in them. She lost her friend and she died and then her house burns down. So I think there is something with the resilience there that is meaningful. They feel important in a way. And then I think there's also something appealing about viewing, you know, the lineage of girlness to a degree. So seeing the sort of historical pattern, like what did it look like to be a girl at this time? And they focus more on the positive elements of that rather than, "well, actually it was really a drag to be a girl at the time. And then it was a drag to be a girl 50 years later than that." They really do focus on what were the positive aspects of , um, of being a girl during different historical periods or what were the opportunities there. So I think that's appealing.

Emmy:

I definitely agree. And I feel like for me, something else that was really resonant was , um, as with a lot of historical fiction, but I do think American Girl makes this really accessible is just seeing how people from different time periods have similar thoughts and interests and wants and feelings as someone living in our own time. Um , with Kirsten, we talked about this, but she's really interested in getting her trunks and like finding her doll. That's something that like for me as a young kid, I could definitely relate to. And then on the reverse imagining how like I myself might react in some of the big situations that the girls encounter. Um, it's just an interesting kind of perspective taking exercise that I think is , um, in like the short and accessible form of the books themselves, it makes it possible to like imagine.

Heather:

Coming up, we'll get an expert's take on an important aspect of this novel that is not often discussed, but first let's pay some bills,

Speaker 4:

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Kelsey:

All right , now let's talk to someone who actually knows something about one of the main topics featured in this book, infectious disease.

Amy:

Hi , my name is Amy Klion and I'm an infectious disease specialist in Baltimore, Maryland.

Hannah:

Awesome. All right. So thanks so much for joining us today to talk about the American Girl , uh , Kirsten Larson books. So I'm so excited to hear your thoughts about how authentic the portrayal of infectious disease is in this book. Um, so can you tell us a little bit about what is cholera and is it still around? Is it still something that people get? What is cholera?

Amy:

So color is a gram negative bacteria that causes infection. Um, it is spread usually in areas of poor sanitation through water or food, or sometimes from person to person contact. It was really common back in the 18 hundreds. And, and before that, because the hygiene wasn't very good and there were huge epidemics. Um, however, it's still exists today and there are some areas of the world , um, particularly areas of Asia and some areas of Africa where there are still outbreaks of cholera and people still die. Um, so it it is, it is a real problem even now.

Kelsey:

Well , and can you talk about like, was it a very common thing that would be spread on boats and , and why is that the case? If so,

Amy:

It was a very common thing spread on boats for a number of reasons. Um, so first of all, the people that like Kirsten's family, who didn't have a lot of money were often crammed together on a boat. And so you can imagine that if one person got sick, it was really hard to isolate them from other people. And so very often there would be one person who had cholera as they described in the book, they would get off the boat, but they had already infected other people that then the boat would sail and people would be cramped together. They wouldn't be able to isolate them from the person who was sick and then the infection would spread from person to person , um, or, or through food handling , um, on the boat. And so, yeah, that was a very , there were many, many epidemics that were on, on boats going a variety of places.

Kelsey:

Wow. So , um, do you feel that the way infectious diseases and particularly cholera is portrayed in the book is authentic?

Amy:

So for the most part, yeah, I I think it was very authentic. I mean, certainly t hat piece, the illness, u m, is, was very rapid. U m, typically people would get sick and would have profuse, watery diarrhea, and just not be able to, especially on a boat, they wouldn't be able to administer fluids, u m, and the person wouldn't be able to drink and wouldn't be able to keep up with the fluid loss and would die in a very short period of time as they described. So that, that I think was very accurate. The only thing that perhaps was a little bit atypical is that, u m, the girl who was sick seemed to have abdominal pain and that's not a huge part of cholera diarrhea. It's, it's more that you just lose all your f luids, t hen you can't keep up. And in this day and age, that's the reason that people can, if they're in a proper, u h, you know, an area where they can get adequate fluids and you can keep up with it and give them IVs that people can survive cholera, but in those kinds of situations on boats, really, the outcome would be what you saw in the book. And so, yeah, I think it was, it was pretty accurate.

Kelsey:

That's interesting. I think one of the things we talked about , um, when we were discussing the book is that it seemed a little maybe generic or like, it wasn't clear like what exactly all her symptoms were. So , um, you know, it's interesting to hear you talk about like what the actual actual symptoms of cholera were. Cause I think as kids reading it, we were like, oh, it just, she's just ill. Like, what is , what does it mean that she has cholera? We didn't quite pick that up in the same way,

Amy:

No, at the end. But I think that things would progress so quickly that the person would lose so much fluid. They were become pale and tired and not interested in anything and would really rapidly die. So, you know, that's what they, that's what they described. I think that's real

Kelsey:

Well great. I'm , I'm glad to know that it's at least generally pretty accurate , um , especially hope for historical fiction novel. That that would be the case. Um, do you have any pet peeves in general in like popular media of portrayals of infectious diseases that like always seem to recur, you really wish people would stop doing

Amy:

No, but I , I, I think the , one of the real problems is that that everybody wants to sensationalize , um, the illness, whatever it is , um, because people pay attention in this case, in cholera, in the 1800s. I mean, they , they pick the right historical setting. This is really what happens . And so I think in contrast to some portrayals of diseases where you think, you know, really that would be happening now, or, you know, this , if they have every possible symptom that you can imagine when, you know , regular people would not have everything that really isn't true in this book, I think they did their homework, the timeframe that they picked, there were epidemics on boats from people coming from, from Scandinavia in particular , um , coming to the United States and would bring cholera with them and spread it to the people in the upper Midwest. And so there were really devastating epidemics of cholera at that time. So I think the book did a particularly good job in that sense, I guess I would say that there have been, you might want, or, you know, is there a vaccine against cholera and there have been cholera vaccines developed. By and large they haven't been as effective as you would hope. And so they're not routinely used. U m, but, but there are people very actively working on trying to develop vaccines to prevent even, y ou k now, these, even though there aren't big epidemics in the United States anymore to prevent some of the spread in other countries.

Kelsey:

Wow. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time. And I found this really interesting to add to my understanding of both this book in particular and kind of the historical accuracy of the American girl books more generally. Um, I'm really glad to hear that, that it seems okay. At least in this instance. So thank you so much.

Amy:

You're welcome. It was nice to talk to you.

Emmy:

Okay. So now we are going to get into something I mentioned earlier. There are theater additions of the American Girl books. So to introduce our game segment, we are going to read perhaps the most dramatic act of the Kirsten play. We'll all be taking on different roles and we will give you just a little taste of what American Girl theater can be.

Kelsey:

Shall we introduce our ourselves as our roles for the audience?

Heather:

Sure. I'm Marta.

Emmy:

I'm Kirsten.

Hannah:

I'm mamma ,

Kelsey:

and I'll be your narrator and I'll also be (deep gravelly voice) Papa.

Heather:

I like that Papa is Papa and the bear.

:

Are we ready? Act four scene in the sick bay just before dawn. Marta is laying on a straw mattress on the ground. Kirsten enters. She kneels beside Marta, Marta moans and rolls her head from side to side, Kirsten, smooths the pillow and puts Marta's doll next to her in bed.

Heather:

Oh, Kirsten.

Emmy:

Yes. I'm here. Marta, lie back.

Heather:

You shouldn't be here.

Emmy:

I had to see you. Do you feel better?

Heather:

I'm tired. I just feel very tired.

Emmy:

Papa says we will get to Minnesota today. Marta, when we get to Minnesota, we will be home. You will feel better.

Heather:

No, I don't think so. Kirsten.

Emmy:

Of course you will. You must get, well, I will hate Minnesota if you aren't well, and we can't play together there, it will never feel like home.

Heather:

You mustn't say that. Home is wherever you have friends. Your cousins will be your friends, th-they will make you feel at home.

Emmy:

but you are my best friend. I'll be so lonely. If we are not together.

Heather:

Look Kirsten. The sun is coming up.

Emmy:

Yes, I see it.

Heather:

Remember what your grandmother told you. Remember what you and I said about the sun .

Emmy:

Whenever I miss you. Whenever I am lonely, I should look at the sun and think of you.

Heather:

Remember, we all see the same sun, but Marta, God bless you. Kirsten.

Emmy:

Marta, Marta. Oh , Marta!

Kelsey:

Kirsten holds Marta's hand to her cheek and cries mama and Papa enter. They kneel behind Kirsten.

Hannah:

Kirsten!

Emmy:

she's dead. Mama Marta is dead.

Hannah:

The poor child,

Kelsey:

God rest her soul.

Emmy:

Marta, Marta. My friend

Kelsey:

Come Kirsten. We must go. The boat has docked. It is time for us to go ashore,

Emmy:

But what will happen to Marta?

Kelsey:

The sailors will bury her here. Her soul is in heaven.

Emmy:

No, No.

Kelsey:

Kirsten sobs and buries her head in her arms. They're there enough tears stop . Now Kirsten.

Hannah:

Let her have her tears.

Kelsey:

Mama and Papa put their arms around Kirsten. Kirsten looks up at the sun.

Emmy:

God bless you. Marta,

Kelsey:

Kirsten, Mama and Papa, exit and Marta. Doesn't cause she's dead. (applause) All right . So it's time for our Bechtel test segment. Each episode we ask whether our book passes, the Bechdel test, the Bechtel test asks whether our work features two female characters who talk to each other about something that doesn't involve men or boys. So does American Girl Kirsten Larson pass the Bechdel test?

Heather:

I think most of them do, but I feel like a couple of the books may not have.

Hannah:

I wasn't s ure i f we were supposed to e valuate this with the whole, like all six books, do they together pass the test or individually altogether they do, but yeah, like you said, maybe not for some of them. If we look at each book by itself.

Kelsey:

The only one I'm well, okay. So the Kirsten surprise one she talks to her cousins about planning the St . Lucia event surprise. So that passes. The one I was worried about was the old Jack one, but her mom warns her, not put the raccoon in the barn.

Hannah:

I mean, is it a boy raccoon because...

Kelsey:

That might count, question mark?

Heather:

Yeah, that one, that one was a concern. And then my other one was the blizzard one, but you're right. They did talk about the, their preparations for their holiday. And I think they didn't mention the men folk.

Kelsey:

I think it passes.

Hannah:

I think so. It's it doesn't like pass in a way that's like dramatic and clear, but it's.

Kelsey:

It's not sailing over the bar, but it does pass.

Hannah:

Squeaks over it. But just a little bit of space .

Emmy:

I do think in the last book, the one we were concerned about, there are a lot of conversations that maybe don't stand out, stand out in the plot, but between Aunt Inger and mama and the cousins, because all of the.

Kelsey:

about the house that burned down?

Emmy:

The men are away. Yeah . So they , they like kind of plan and talk about their move and stuff.

Heather:

See but I didn't think that counted because then they would be like, so John, how much are you selling your house for? Or like, well, Papa will be back in this much time.

Kelsey:

It's not a full conversation.

Heather:

So like, I felt like those were very dense with male references, but maybe they weren't.

Kelsey:

I mean, I think it passes just

Heather:

Close enough.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Heather:

Well, that's it for this episode of these books made me join us next time when we'll discuss a book in which an orphan and a servant girl embark on a literacy program, if you think you know which book we're tackling next, drop us a tweet. We're @PGCMLS on Twitter and #TheseBooksMadeMe You can also send us your question at thesebooksmademe@pgcmls.info and for historical deep dives and read-alikes, check out our blog, which is linked in the episode notes.

Intro
Our Kirsten memories
Reading American Girl as an adult
Illustrations in the books
Pleasant Company history
Meet Kirsten
AG really wants you to buy this doll
Kirsten Learns a Lesson
Kirsten's Surprise
Happy Birthday, Kirsten!
Kirsten Saves the Day
Bees!
Changes for Kirsten
Graverobbing girl
Ella's Ephemera: Daguerreotype
Depiction of Immigration and Native American characters
Those bangs though...
Historical accuracy
St. Lucia's Day
Kirsten as role model
Interview with cholera expert, Amy Klion from NIH
Meet Kirsten: The Play!
Bechdel Test