Kathleen Ernst first came on my radar when I became our school district's librarian. After teaching secondary students for 15 years, I had to quickly catch up on children's literature, which I had not studied much since college. Of course, I had kept up with my own kids' taste in kid lit. In those first months as librarian, I really immersed myself in all the levels and genres. With fourth graders expanding their reading to include more genres - mysteries, historical fiction, Wisconsin history, fantasy, I soon found that they also liked series books. Among the popular series for this age group (for girls at least) were the American Girl books that accompanied the dolls. Kathleen Ernst, a Wisconsinite, wrote some of those novels and also some of their special history-mystery books. Like I still do, back then, I always gave special attention to Wisconsin authors, so more than a few times I booked talked Ernst's history mystery titles. A few years ago, I stumbled upon her adult/young adult mystery series featuring Chloe Ellefson. DEATH ON THE PRAIRIE, her 33rd book and sixth in the Ellefson series,
all revolves around a trip Chloe and her sister take to see the sites which preserve the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
There are so many reasons for me to like Ernst's gentle mystery series. First of all, Chloe Ellefson works as a museum curator/archivist for Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, WI, a living history museum which features re-enactments and a whole preserved village. One of those buildings - a town hall, I believe, is the actual building where my mother and her students would hold their Christmas program. Eagle itself is about 35 minutes from the community where I grew up, and my father's family settled in Eagle in the late 1800's. And then Chloe's choice of job is similar to what my daughter does, although my daughter's work as an archivist is for the Catholic church, not for a public museum. I also love that this series is set in 1980's so there are no cell phones or internet to mess up the mystery. I found it refreshing, especially in this book about Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, to remember the 80's and the first wave of Little House on the Prairie television viewers. If you read Ernst's biography, you will find out that she actually worked at
Old World Wisconsin in the the 1980's, so her take on that historical site and Chloe's job is based on
experience, not speculation.
This particular story features an inherited quilt (could it really have been made by Laura), a road trip between adult sisters (everyone knows that families create their own drama), and some mysterious ominous happenings. Meanwhile back in Eagle, Chloe's boyfriend, police officer Roelke is trying to decide whether to make a career move or buy his grandfather's farm to preserve that heritage. By the time I had finished the novel, not only had a series of mysterious happenings been cleared up, but I had vicariously visited the Laura historic sites (in real life, I have only visited Pepin's cabin in the woods) and had learned many interesting true facts about her, her daughter and the Little House books. If you like history and the world of museums, give Kathleen Ernst's writing a chance.
Check out her http://www.kathleenernst.com/index.php to learn more about her life and the books.
I obtained my Chloe Ellefson mystery book through the Winnefox Library System.