Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Strong Women

by Kathleen Ernst

I’m celebrating a launch today—but it’s not the latest Chloe Ellefson book.

As I’ve mentioned on Inkspot before, I write for both children and adults.  In early 2009, American Girl invited me to create a character set during the War of 1812.  I said yes, and began the long process of researching and writing a series aimed at girls age eight and up.

Now, at long last, my six books about Caroline Abbott are hitting the shelves.
I’ve written two Caroline books and a Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery every year for the past three years.  The deadlines have been challenging, to put it mildly.  But I wouldn’t have given up either project.  As I send Caroline into the world, and anticipate sending the third Chloe mystery into the world very soon, I’ve been thinking about that.

What do all these books have in common?  Strong females.

Caroline is nine years old as the series begins.  When the United States declares war on Great Britain, she and her family are plunged immediately into the thick of it.  Her father is captured by the British, leaving Caroline, her mother, and her grandmother to keep the family’s home and shipbuilding business going.

Creating these three characters was very satisfying.  Grandmother, who was widowed during the Revolutionary War, is frail of body but strong of spirit. 

Caroline 019
Mama immediately takes charge of the family shipyard and begins negotiating contracts with the US Navy.  Each in their own way, both of these women provide wonderful role models for Caroline.

In rural middle-class families, it was not uncommon for young children of the period to be given what might seem to modern readers extraordinary responsibilities.  This gave me room to give Caroline a lot to handle as the series unfolds.  She sometimes makes mistakes but does the best she can, with her mother and grandmother as examples of what women are capable of.  And Caroline figures out that even a young girl can make a positive difference in difficult times.

How does she compare to Chloe Ellefson?  At the beginning of her series, Chloe is recovering from clinical depression.  The challenges she faces in solving the mystery in Old World Murder help her recover her inner strength.  While a few readers have characterized Chloe as weak because she struggled with depression, I think that her past makes her a much more complex and fully realized woman; and I hope that her ability to leave that past behind as the series unfolds makes her inner strength that much more satisfying.
Lightkeepers cover reduced
The mysteries Chloe explores often reveal some aspect of strong women from history.  She discovers women who may have had few options, but nonetheless did their best to stand up to difficult times, to find or make beauty of their world, to help their families and community.  The Light Keeper’s Legacy, which is coming soon, includes an historical timeline braided with Chloe’s investigation.  Several strong women emerge from the past—but more about that another time.

I love writing about strong women--nine years old or ninety; real or imagined.  I hope that readers of all ages enjoy spending time with them, too.

To learn more, visit

The gorgeous illustrations from the Caroline Abbott books were created by Robert Papp.


Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Great post, Kathleen. Strong women & girls are always important as roll models for both girls AND boys, and certainly timely. I am sharing this blog - I don't have any little girls, but plenty of my readers do!

Lois Winston said...

Best of luck with the new American Girl series, Kathleen!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Sheila, great point--ALL children deserve strong role models! Thanks for sharing.

Lois, I appreciate the good wishes!

G.M. Malliet said...


Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks, Gin!

Deborah Sharp said...

I wish the American Girl books had been around when I was a child. What a fabulous bunch of role models for bright, inquisitive, industrious young girls. Congrats to you, and best wishes for all your ''babies'' out there.