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Only in Kirsten Learns a Lesson
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Miss Winston
Kirsten hurries after her eleven-year-old cousin, Lisbeth. Kirsten complains that Lisbeth is walking too fast, but Lisbeth doesn't slow down. Instead she explains that Mr. Coogan would be very angry if they would show up late. Mr. Coogan had been Lisbeth's teacher since she was nine and she loves to tell stories about how strict he is. It is November and the harvest is over, so Kirsten can go to school now. Today is her first day.
Kirsten and Lisbeth stop beside the stream when seven-year-old Anna who is tagging father behind calls to them to wait. Kirsten puts her fingers into a deer track in the sand, wishing that she could just stay by the stream instead of going to school. Lisbeth tells Kirsten that Mr. Coogan would like her if she minds him, but gets very angry when the older boys fight. Kirsten says that the boys weren't allowed to fight in school back in Sweden.
Lisbeth tells Kirsten that boys in America get wild whether they should or not. She goes on about Mr. Coogan, who once punched a child with his first, hits boys with his cane and swats hands with rules if one talks back. Anna pipes up, saying that Mr. Coogan is mean but would never hit Kirsten because she is so nice.
Kirsten insists that she isn't worried, but yet she feels dizzy like she did when she was seasick. She was so nervous that she didn't eat the pancakes her mother made for breakfast. Anna asks Kirsten if her stomach hurts since her own stomach sometimes hurts when she is scared. Kirsten admits that her stomach hurts a little. Anna sympathizes with her; it is hard to be the new girl.
Lisbeth slips her arms through Kirsten's and says that she'll be fine if she just does what they do. But Kirsten cannot do what they do because she speaks very little English and can't write it at all. She wishes to be back in Sweden where everyone speaks Swedish like she does. Anna adds that school will only last till four, and they could play in their fort afterwards. Anna hides their dolls in their secret hideaway under the cherry tree and breaks off a spring of bittersweet, handing Kirsten a few of the waxy berries.
Kirsten says that they can use them on their dolls cakes. Before Anna can reply Lisbeth hears the school bell and urges the other two girls to run.
Chapter Two: A Secret Friend
Chapter Three: Visitors
Chapter Four: Singing Bird and Yellow Hair
Chapter Five: Belonging
Looking Back: School in 1854
Discusses education in pioneer America. Topics include:
- The different farm chores children did before and during the harvest season, which was then followed by the beginning of the school year.
- Why pioneer schools were only open during the winter and summer seasons, and the difficultly some children had with attending school on a regular basis.
- The use of readers to help children learn to read and write, and the other school subjects students studied.
- Why students were usually told to recite their lessons out loud rather than write them down.
- How students worked within their classroom and the Merritt rewards that were awarded to students who did very well with their recitation.
- The struggles pioneer schoolteachers had with finding proper boarding residents, which led to many teachers moving from one student's house to another student's house during the school year.