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Kirsten Learns a Lesson: A School Story

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Kirsten Larson is a pioneer girl of strength and spirit growing up on the Minnesota prairie in 1854. Kirsten's stories begin with her long, dangerous voyage with her family from Sweden to America. At first, Kirsten finds it difficult to get used to this strange new country. But as she makes friends and discovers what her new land has to offer, she learns the true meaning o Kirsten Larson is a pioneer girl of strength and spirit growing up on the Minnesota prairie in 1854. Kirsten's stories begin with her long, dangerous voyage with her family from Sweden to America. At first, Kirsten finds it difficult to get used to this strange new country. But as she makes friends and discovers what her new land has to offer, she learns the true meaning of home -- and that love is the same in any language.Kirsten has trouble in her new American school. She finds escape in playing with her secret Sioux friend, Singing Bird.


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Kirsten Larson is a pioneer girl of strength and spirit growing up on the Minnesota prairie in 1854. Kirsten's stories begin with her long, dangerous voyage with her family from Sweden to America. At first, Kirsten finds it difficult to get used to this strange new country. But as she makes friends and discovers what her new land has to offer, she learns the true meaning o Kirsten Larson is a pioneer girl of strength and spirit growing up on the Minnesota prairie in 1854. Kirsten's stories begin with her long, dangerous voyage with her family from Sweden to America. At first, Kirsten finds it difficult to get used to this strange new country. But as she makes friends and discovers what her new land has to offer, she learns the true meaning of home -- and that love is the same in any language.Kirsten has trouble in her new American school. She finds escape in playing with her secret Sioux friend, Singing Bird.

30 review for Kirsten Learns a Lesson: A School Story

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chuzzy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Personally, I think it would have been a lot better if Kirsten really did run away...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Abigail

    Singing Bird is such a sweetheart

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Moyes

    This book is a joke! (THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS) Kirsten doesn't speak English, but then goes to school and doesn't seem to have any trouble understanding her teacher--who's speaking English? THEN, Kirsten makes friends with a Native American girl by exchanging gifts with her. Cut to some time later, and THEY CAN COMMUNICATE. Even though they speak different languages. No difficulty for Kirsten, apparently. But we get NO information on how they learned to speak to one another. Singing Bird, Kir This book is a joke! (THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS) Kirsten doesn't speak English, but then goes to school and doesn't seem to have any trouble understanding her teacher--who's speaking English? THEN, Kirsten makes friends with a Native American girl by exchanging gifts with her. Cut to some time later, and THEY CAN COMMUNICATE. Even though they speak different languages. No difficulty for Kirsten, apparently. But we get NO information on how they learned to speak to one another. Singing Bird, Kirsten's friend, takes Kirsten to her village to meet her father. Then HER FATHER SPEAKS TO KIRSTEN. Are they speaking English? What?? Finally, after all this, I thought, "Ok, they're going to tie it together by having Kirsten realize that learning English is important because it's worth it to learn to communicate with people you want to be friends with, even if it's difficult." NOPE. Kirsten learns English when her teacher gives her a poem to memorize about being on a boat! Because apparently, that's like her strongest memory, even though, by all accounts, the voyage to America was HORRIBLE, and also HER FRIEND MARTA DIES ON A BOAT!! Which also she apparently has no trauma from!! In summary, ridiculous.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jaonna Caldwell

    I think meet Kirsten was a good book because Kirsten learned to read in English. But she also lied to her parents by saying that she was going to practice her poem when acually she was just going to meet a friend.Plus she was leaving school to go meet the same friend Singing Bird.She had to sneak because her family did not like indians.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elise

    I love how this one continues to expand on the the theme of the challenges an immigrating family faces. Specifically the challenge of learning English and how intimidating it can be. For young readers, who only know their own experiences, this is going to teach real empathy. Hell, for an adult it does that. There's also some very interesting commentary the pioneers relationships with indigenous peoples and how their farming affected their food supply. I love how this one continues to expand on the the theme of the challenges an immigrating family faces. Specifically the challenge of learning English and how intimidating it can be. For young readers, who only know their own experiences, this is going to teach real empathy. Hell, for an adult it does that. There's also some very interesting commentary the pioneers relationships with indigenous peoples and how their farming affected their food supply.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shelli

    If you read my reviews you know I am a fan of the American Girls series for girls. I enjoyed this one but felt that it was two story lines when it should have been one. These are small-chapter books and dividing the story up this way means neither topic gets the attention that it deserves. Since this book is called Kirsten Learns A Lesson: A School Story, the book should have been just that, life for a young immigrant girl going to a rural school in 1854. School life at that time is so completel If you read my reviews you know I am a fan of the American Girls series for girls. I enjoyed this one but felt that it was two story lines when it should have been one. These are small-chapter books and dividing the story up this way means neither topic gets the attention that it deserves. Since this book is called Kirsten Learns A Lesson: A School Story, the book should have been just that, life for a young immigrant girl going to a rural school in 1854. School life at that time is so completely foreign to young readers now that more details about Kirsten's school life would have been more interesting and educational. The second story line was also good but needed its own book in this American Girls Series. Kirsten befriends a Native American girl. Even though spoken communication was next to impossible these two young girls from very different back grounds became friends. Both story lines were good, just not enough "meat" to either of them in the one book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Crawford

    This is one of the few books in the series where it's actually best to read the historical section first and then the story. The historical section does a good job in explaining how schools were run in Kirsten's time and it's extremely different from the way things are done now. In this story Kirsten is going to start school but she speaks very, very little English and has a lot of trouble in class, especially when the teacher assigns her a poem to memorize and recite in front of the others. Anot This is one of the few books in the series where it's actually best to read the historical section first and then the story. The historical section does a good job in explaining how schools were run in Kirsten's time and it's extremely different from the way things are done now. In this story Kirsten is going to start school but she speaks very, very little English and has a lot of trouble in class, especially when the teacher assigns her a poem to memorize and recite in front of the others. Another plotline is when Kirsten makes friends with a young Indian girl who lives nearby. They get along very, very well and trade a number of different items with each other. Kirsten is even able to meet the girl's father in their teepee. (Which really goes to show that the hatred against the Native Americans was taught the young people; until they were taught that, they could regard each other as potential friends.) This is a very good story in the series.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I didn't like this book nearly as much as the first one. I guess since I love languages and literature, it is tough for me to identify with a little girl who doesn't want to learn a poem in a foreign language (to be fair, though, nobody likes reciting something in front of a classroom). There wasn't the pioneer life-and-death struggle in this book that is so gripping in some of the others. I also wondered how likely Kirsten's friendship with Singing Bird was--did pioneer children really make fri I didn't like this book nearly as much as the first one. I guess since I love languages and literature, it is tough for me to identify with a little girl who doesn't want to learn a poem in a foreign language (to be fair, though, nobody likes reciting something in front of a classroom). There wasn't the pioneer life-and-death struggle in this book that is so gripping in some of the others. I also wondered how likely Kirsten's friendship with Singing Bird was--did pioneer children really make friends with Native American children? It stretched my suspension of disbelief a bit, but I suppose it could happen. Also, the non-fiction section at the end... sheesh. Teachers have never been paid well, apparently.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emily Von pfahl

    Of the six original Kirsten books I think this is the strongest. I found the friction between Kirsten and her teacher as Kirsten struggles with a new language to be quite compelling, and one that many children can relate to. I also appreciated how the teacher and Kirsten found a solution together to overcome her challenges in school as it was realistic and showed that teachers are people with feelings and understanding too. I think that too often teachers are the antagonists in children's books. Of the six original Kirsten books I think this is the strongest. I found the friction between Kirsten and her teacher as Kirsten struggles with a new language to be quite compelling, and one that many children can relate to. I also appreciated how the teacher and Kirsten found a solution together to overcome her challenges in school as it was realistic and showed that teachers are people with feelings and understanding too. I think that too often teachers are the antagonists in children's books. It makes sense, besides their parents that is who has the most authority over them that they interact with on a regular basis, but leaving them as the antagonist without allowing for the child's perception to change is too common. That is why I found this particular story to be refreshing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hayley

    In school Kirsten leaned to do a poem she said thought she could not do but she did!!!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    Ow, my nostalgia! I had the Kirsten doll as a child, but don’t remember having any particular affinity for her as a character; I think my mom just got her for me because she is the character I most closely resembled. In my memory, Kirsten is the “sensitive” American Girl, which I don’t think was particularly true of me as a child or as an adult. But her stories are really hitting me right now, probably because of my history with her. I definitely have not thought of the content of this book since Ow, my nostalgia! I had the Kirsten doll as a child, but don’t remember having any particular affinity for her as a character; I think my mom just got her for me because she is the character I most closely resembled. In my memory, Kirsten is the “sensitive” American Girl, which I don’t think was particularly true of me as a child or as an adult. But her stories are really hitting me right now, probably because of my history with her. I definitely have not thought of the content of this book since last reading it probably 25 years ago, and it was unexpected that it brought back so many memories. Kirsten speaks little English and is sent to school where she struggles; I would expect that many other students in the class would be in a similar situation, including Kirsten’s own brothers who apparently have no problem fitting in and doing their class work. I don’t know how to feel about the new teacher, Miss Winston: She’s from Maine (+1000), she refers to indigenous people as “savages” (-10,000, but probably and unfortunately historically accurate that a teacher would say that?), she’s 19 (LOL imagining myself at 19), and she does eventually connect with Kirsten in a way that Kirsten can succeed in her studies. She 10000% marries Amos Anderson at some point in this series. I am convinced Janet Shaw modeled Miss Winston after Miss Rumphius. The storyline with Singing Bird: I loved it. Two young girls create a friendship without a shared language but learn enough from each other and through drawings to communicate. It was heartbreaking for me for Kirsten to lose another friend, this time because of families like hers who have settled on stolen land and driven away the resources needed for Singing Bird’s community to survive. I hope that in an alternate universe Kirsten goes with Singing Bird and the rest of the series is about their adventures together. Also with the state of the United States I imagine the Larsons’ ancestors wish their forebears had stuck it out in Sweden.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    I have no recollection of the happenings in this book, and that is a good thing because wowwwwwwww is this book fucked or what. First of all, Miss Winston's little grammar lesson is HILARIOUS but also HORRIFYING; well played, Janet Shaw. But really, this is a whole lot of nonsense. Why is this called Powderkeg School? Why is Kirsten alternately terrible and gifted and then terrible again at English, instead of a slow curve of learning like would actually be realistic? What the fuck is with "secr I have no recollection of the happenings in this book, and that is a good thing because wowwwwwwww is this book fucked or what. First of all, Miss Winston's little grammar lesson is HILARIOUS but also HORRIFYING; well played, Janet Shaw. But really, this is a whole lot of nonsense. Why is this called Powderkeg School? Why is Kirsten alternately terrible and gifted and then terrible again at English, instead of a slow curve of learning like would actually be realistic? What the fuck is with "secret Indian friend" and that nonsense? I'm not going to even go into names like Singing Bird and Yellow Hair because it's so fucking pedestrian and basic that calling it problematic is giving it too much credit. White people are fucking obsessed with "Indian names" and I cannot. Singing Bird, by the way, also goes from knowing literally no English to being able to communicate in short sentences after interacting with a girl who doesn't speak English herself. A wha? The plotting in this story is so uneven that it's like Shaw and Pleasant Rowland were playing a game of Exquisite Corpse and they never bothered to go through and smooth out the disjointed bits after they got to the end. So not even by American frontier romanticist nonsense standards is this good; it's bad because it's every bit as trite and problematic as you'd expect from the white capitalist institution that made it, but it's also just bad on all technical levels. Blehh. Now I see why I didn't like Kirsten growing up.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rita

    c 1986 Author born 1937 [and it shows] Highly moralistic. One reviewer read it to her 6 year old. I tried to imagine reading it to Julian [7] and couldn't. Seems to me too much background is taken for granted and not explained -- immigrating from another country, being unable to speak English, going to a one-room school, writing on a slate, not having a slate to write on, an Indian friend met secretly by the river whose tribe has to leave to find an area with more food..... But perhaps I underestim c 1986 Author born 1937 [and it shows] Highly moralistic. One reviewer read it to her 6 year old. I tried to imagine reading it to Julian [7] and couldn't. Seems to me too much background is taken for granted and not explained -- immigrating from another country, being unable to speak English, going to a one-room school, writing on a slate, not having a slate to write on, an Indian friend met secretly by the river whose tribe has to leave to find an area with more food..... But perhaps I underestimate children. I guess I enjoyed reading it [as an adult]. It might make a good movie? This copy has written in it: from Audrey for Karin March 3, 1989 Blurb: "Kirsten Larson is a pioneer girl of strength and spirit growing up on the Minnesota prairie in 1854. Kirsten's stories begin with her long, dangerous voyage with her family from Sweden to America. At first, Kirsten finds it difficult to get used to this strange new country. But as she makes friends and discovers what her new land has to offer, she learns the true meaning of home -- and that love is the same in any language.Kirsten has trouble in her new American school. She finds escape in playing with her secret Sioux friend, Singing Bird."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    I enjoyed book #2 even more than the first one! There were so many cute things in this story that students can relate to. Kirsten has to start school and she's very nervous. She doesn't speak a lot of English and she's heard how tough the schoolmaster is. Luckily, they have a new teacher, Ms. Winston, but she is stern and insists on everyone doing their best. She wants all the students to memorize a poem. Kirsten can barely speak English, let alone memorize a poem! Kirsten had heard that the nati I enjoyed book #2 even more than the first one! There were so many cute things in this story that students can relate to. Kirsten has to start school and she's very nervous. She doesn't speak a lot of English and she's heard how tough the schoolmaster is. Luckily, they have a new teacher, Ms. Winston, but she is stern and insists on everyone doing their best. She wants all the students to memorize a poem. Kirsten can barely speak English, let alone memorize a poem! Kirsten had heard that the native people were "savages" (I really don't like using this word, even in historical context. It makes me feel sick. I think they should remove it from the book. The teacher is always saying to the students "We aren't savages!") Kirsten learns that isn't true when she meets a young Native American girl by the riverbank. They start out leaving small gifts for each other and become friends, speaking a language that's deeper than English or any spoken word. I loved the friendship with Singing Bird. I thought it was sweet. Neither girl spoke English, but they learned to communicate differently.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sesana

    Two stories in one, which is an interesting choice for such a short book. On one hand, there's Kirsten's struggles at school when she has very limited English proficiency, and then there's the storyline about her befriending a Native American girl. I'd love to see some good, historical criticism about the latter. I get that Shaw wanted to recognize that the opportunity Kirsten's family is taking advantage of comes at the expense of the Native population, but I think that needed to be the whole s Two stories in one, which is an interesting choice for such a short book. On one hand, there's Kirsten's struggles at school when she has very limited English proficiency, and then there's the storyline about her befriending a Native American girl. I'd love to see some good, historical criticism about the latter. I get that Shaw wanted to recognize that the opportunity Kirsten's family is taking advantage of comes at the expense of the Native population, but I think that needed to be the whole story of this book to do it anything like justice.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    I adored these books as a kid, but I'm struggling now, as an adult, to figure out just why. L is enjoying them well enough, though she struggles with retaining the details of the plot and is mostly interested in looking at the dresses and hairstyles in the pictures. She insists that she wants to keep reading them, though. I adored these books as a kid, but I'm struggling now, as an adult, to figure out just why. L is enjoying them well enough, though she struggles with retaining the details of the plot and is mostly interested in looking at the dresses and hairstyles in the pictures. She insists that she wants to keep reading them, though.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Karol

    Kirsten Learns a Lesson shows what a one room school was like and the difficulty of being a student new to the English language. It also shares the ability to make friends with people from a different background.

  18. 4 out of 5

    evelyn

    The settlement Kirsten’s family lives on drives an Indian community out. All that’s talked about in the history part of the book is that kids sat on benches in one-room schoolhouses. At least the story is pretty blunt about the effect of settlers on indigenous communities?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stef

    Kirsten and Singing Bird exchanging tiny presents is cute. It’s weird to be reading this is 2020 and have the Native Americans called “Indians.” The school scenes very much channel Laura Ingalls going to school in the Little House story.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    I liked that this featured some Native American characters - I definitely hope we don't just have the white perspective in all of Kirsten's books. Aside from that, the one-room schoolhouse and Kirsten learning to read was definitely nostalgic. I liked that this featured some Native American characters - I definitely hope we don't just have the white perspective in all of Kirsten's books. Aside from that, the one-room schoolhouse and Kirsten learning to read was definitely nostalgic.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Teddy

    Like the side story with Singing Bird, however, I don't think this accurately portrays the.... oh, who am I kidding. This is a kids book. Would read. Like the side story with Singing Bird, however, I don't think this accurately portrays the.... oh, who am I kidding. This is a kids book. Would read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Wonderful book for the American Girls series.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Catie

    5 ⭐️ Eloise Great discussion starters about history.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    This book is about a girl named Kirsten. She moved to new country in America. She had hard time to learn and speak English.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dakota W.

    This book is a wonderful book that teaches you to fight for what you stand for Kirsten is an amazing girl who always stands up for what she believes.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    Kirsten is a pioneer girl from Sweden.🧶 Miss Winston Is Kirsten’s school teacher .She is kind of mean.🐶🐱🐷🐮🐹🐭🐣🐥🦆🐔🦋🐛🐝🐜🐞

  27. 5 out of 5

    Grace Lynch

    Cute story for young readers!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kati Polodna

    Another great reread.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Katy Lovejoy

    I like the plot with the native Americans

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marissa

    [Re-reading the American Girl books in quarantine to feel something 2/6] The wholesome Little House on the Prairie/Anne of Green Gables vibes of this one were *chef’s kiss*

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