Hattie Ever After
Sequel to Hattie Big Sky
Great Falls, Montana, 1919
When Hattie mails off her last check to Mr. Nefzger, her uncle’s debt is paid in full. Now she is free to go anywhere, away from Mrs. Brown’s boardinghouse and the less-than-glamorous life of a chambermaid. Hattie’s dear friend Perilee urges her to do the sensible thing and join her family in Seattle. But Hattie is not prone to the sensible. What sensible girl would say yes to spending a year under Montana’s big sky trying to make a go of a long-lost uncle’s homestead claim? And what sensible girl would say no to Charlie, who is convinced he and Hattie are meant to grow old together?
For all its challenges and sorrows, Hattie’s time on the homestead gave her a taste of what if might be like to stake her own claim on life. She hasn’t yet confessed it to anyone, not even to Parilee, but Hattie has thrown a lasso around a dream even bigger than a Montana farm.
She wants to be a big-city reporter.
And thanks to a vaudeville vanishing act, a mysterious love token, an opera star and her unique ability to throw a snake ball, it looks like Hattie just might have a chance.
With Hattie Ever After, Kirby Larson has created another lovingly written novel about the remarkable and resilient young orphan Hattie Inez Brooks.
★ Plucky Hattie Inez Brooks, star of Hattie Big Sky (2006), returns to try to find her place in the world. . . . Larson’s prodigious research allows her to accurately recreate San Francisco between 1915 and 1920, and the city will come alive for readers as much as it does for Hattie, with crowds of people, clanging streetcar bells, the smells of China Town and 10-story-high skyscrapers. Readers will fall for this earnest, wide-eyed and strong-minded young woman who does indeed become a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, covering baseball, an airplane excursion and an earthquake and even interviewing President Woodrow Wilson. Historical fiction with heart. (Historical fiction. 10 & up)
★ Hattie has finally paid off the debts left behind by her uncle Chester, working in a boardinghouse in Great Falls, Montana. Finished with the IOU, she is offered a serendipitous opportunity to join a traveling vaudeville troupe as the wardrobe mistress, which leads her to San Francisco. . . . As in Hattie Big Sky (Turtleback, 2008), she is faced with challenges that cause her to question her capabilities, but she learns much about herself while facing obstacles like shady business partners, a deceitful con woman, and more.
Fans anxious to know what happened to Montana homesteader Hattie after the Newbery Honor-winning Hattie Big Sky get their wish in Larson’s big-city sequel. Hattie follows a traveling vaudeville troupe to San Francisco to pursue her dream of becoming a reporter (and to find out more about her mysterious deceased uncle, Chester). The city offers limitless possibility—”each block we passed promised Grand Adventure”—and Hattie soon leaves the troupe to work (as a cleaning woman) at the San Francisco Chronicle. . . . Larson’s excellent research makes the early twentieth century come alive: Hattie experiences an earthquake, flies in an airplane, and interviews President Woodrow Wilson in a broken elevator. Hattie’s transformation from a naive, timid “country mouse” to a confident, independent young woman makes the story’s ending—in which she discovers where (and with whom) home really is—all the more gratifying.
Readers first met Hattie Brooks in the Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky (2006). Now Hattie has left Montana for San Francisco, hoping she can somehow find a way to become a newspaper reporter. . . . Fans of the first book will be thrilled to see the ups and downs of Hattie’s romance with old boyfriend Charlie, while her relationship with another fellow leads to an interesting twist. This is reminiscent of Maude Hart Lovelace’s later Betsy books, whose heroine also wanted to write. And that’s high praise.
The feisty protagonist from Hattie Big Sky (Delacorte, 2006) returns. . . . Larson’s meticulous research brings early-20th-century San Francisco to life, and readers will feel that they are right there with Hattie in the hustle and bustle of a booming city. The way in which she achieves not only her professional ambitions but also personal growth and fulfillment leads to a wholly satisfying conclusion, and the author’s note gives readers a good feel for the solid historical foundations of Hattie’s story. While this novel stands on its own, references to characters and events in the earlier book may be confusing to those meeting Hattie for the first time.
In this sequel to Hattie Big Sky, it’s 1919 and seventeen-year-old orphan Hattie Brooks is off to San Francisco on a dual mission—to accrue the experiences and opportunities that will turn her into a professional writer, and to trace the mystery of the love token that arrived in the mail, addressed to her deceased uncle. . . . Hattie, however, is the kind of character readers actually wonder about after closing the book, and her fans from her first title will be satisfied, and even perhaps relieved, to know she finds her footing in the world.
When Hattie Big Sky lost her crop to a hailstorm and with it her chance to keep her Montana homestead, we knew the plucky pioneer would make her way somehow. Author Kirby Larson’s clever heroine takes a seamstress job that transports her to post-WWI San Francisco, where hems are rising and a young woman’s resourcefulness and wit can earn her a career in this new era. She holds her own with seasoned journalists, novice pilots, and President Wilson himself. From prairie to newsroom, Kirby remains true to herself and determined to succeed in this delightful and well-researched historic fiction for young readers.
This sequel was well worth the wait. Larson captures the essence of the time period by describing the fashion, day-to-day activities, and architecture with detail that perfectly seasons an already rich story. Hattie remains a likable character to whom readers will relate as she navigates new territory while pursuing her goals. Larson’s attention to detail is further explained in her author’s note, where she describes some of the back stories for plot elements in the book. Hattie Big Sky fans will be pleased with the continuation, though reading the first book is not required to fully enjoy the tale. Recommend this book for historical fiction readers, and all ages would appreciate this lovely story.
Spring 2013 Kids’ Indie Next List
Amazon Best Books Pick
Junior Library Guild Pick
Nominated for an ALSC (Association of Library Services for Children) Notable Children’s Book
Chapter One: Homesteads and Hamlet Traps
June 4, 1919
Great Falls, Montana
You will never guess what I am posting in the mail besides this letter to you: my last check to Mr. Nefzger! After these long months, Uncle Chester’s IOU is paid in full. When first presented with that IOU some months ago, I couldn’t imagine how on earth I would repay it. Especially after that summer hailstorm knocked down my crops along with my hopes of making a go of the farm. The good Lord has quite a sense of humor, plunking me down here in Great Falls, in just the sort of job I left Iowa to escape, though I must confess, it was pure pleasure this past winter to have indoor plumbing. No more walking to the necessary when it’s forty below! And I’ve certainly perfected essential cleaning skills. I’ll have you know that I can now make a bed, scour the washbowl and Hoover-sweep the carpet in a lodger’s room in fifteen minutes flat.
Despite the glamour of my current position, I am counting the minutes until the next thing. What is that, you ask? I do not know. You are right, as always, that the sensible plan is to come to you in Seattle. Of course, I would love to be neighbors again, as we were on the Montana prairie. But you know I am not prone to the sensible. What sensible girl would have said yes to spending a year under Montana’s big sky, trying to make a go of a long-lost uncle’s homestead claim?
And what sensible girl wouldn’t say yes to Charlie, who is quite convinced we are meant to grow old together. Only a fool would deflect his attentions. Well, I saw such a fool in the mirror this morning.
It’s not that Charlie wouldn’t be easy to look at for the next fifty years. Aside from your Karl, I can’t think of another man so solid, kind, and true-blue. What is it that I want, one may wonder, if not to be Mrs. Charlie Hawley? That’s as much a mystery to me as Uncle Chester’s past. But I feel strongly that Hattie Here-and-There must change her life before she can change her name.
I still puzzle over Uncle Chester, God rest his soul, calling himself a scoundrel. Perhaps this world needs more such scoundrels. Without him, I never would have had the chance to test myself on the homestead, to breathe in the promises carried on a prairie breeze, or to fill my heart with so many friends, among whom I count you the dearest.
Mrs. Brown is hollering for me. She is in a perfect dither over the acting troupe soon to arrive. The Venturing Varietals are sure to be livelier boarders than our usual Fuller Brush salesmen.
Hattie Inez Brooks
The floor began to vibrate beneath my feet. Mrs. Brown had progressed from hollering to pounding the ceiling below with the broom handle. Evidently, the workday had begun. I set the letter to Perilee aside, tied my apron on, and went to find my employer.
She was in the kitchen, kneading bread dough. I was not to be trusted with this particular task. Despite Perilee’sexpert tutelage, I never managed to bake a loaf of bread any lighter than a flatiron.
Mrs. Brown clapped floury hands together. “Busy now! I want things spotless when the actors arrive. Spotless!” She slapped the dough for emphasis.
Taking stock of what yet needed to be done, I dragged a rug outside, threw it across the clothesline, and began to beat it clean.
As I swung the rug-beater back and forth, my thoughts back-and-forthed, too, settling first on a snippet from Charlie’s last letter:
I should be grateful to be home. And I am, don’t mistake me. Too many families lost their sons in that war. It’s hard to explain what I feel. The best I can come up with is that it’s like trying to pitch without a baseball. Something’s missing. And I think you know what that something is.
I shook my head. Why couldn’t I be more like other girls my age? Take Mrs. Brown’s niece. She spent her every waking hour sizing up this beau or that, stitching tea towels and petticoats and putting aside a little each month for a set of Spode Buttercup dishes.
Perhaps I’d have been the same way had it not been for Uncle Chester leaving me the homestead in his will. Last year, working to prove up, I had been more than Hattie Here-and-There, the orphan girl with too many temporary homes. I had been Hattie Big Sky, carving out a place to belong. Like so many others who’d been drawn to Montana’s prairie—”Next Year” country—I was not successful. And losing the farm was not the worst of my losses. It was nothing compared to losing Mattie.
My arm stopped midswing, and I swiped at my eyes, suddenly thankful for this dusty job. Should anyone come upon me, I could blame it for my damp eyes, not memories of Mattie. The influenza had cut a wide swath of death through this country, but that one loss cut an even wider swath through my heart.
After a moment, I resumed the rhythmic slapping of beater on rug, another thought moving to the forefront of my mind. For all its challenges and sorrows, my time on the homestead had given me a taste of what it might be like to stake out my own claim on life, and had left me craving more.
After a while, I carted the last rug into the house, smoothing it back in its place on the floor. Windows were next. I lugged buckets and rags upstairs, catching my reflection in the glass in the Daisy room. Guilt was stamped all over my face. With good reason: I had been less than forthcoming with Perilee, my truest friend, in my letter to her. I did know what I wanted to do. Six long lonely months here in Great Falls had provided ample time to piece together new hopes.
Those “Honyocker’s Homilies” I’d written from the homestead for the Arlington News back in Iowa were the first fleas to bite. Then I began to read the assorted newspapers our lodgers left behind, discovering articles written by female reporters like Ida Tarbell, a famous muckraker, and Nellie Bly, who earned her first assignment when she was eighteen, just a year older than me.
I could not yet confess it to anyone, not even Perilee, but I had thrown a lasso around a dream even bigger than a Montana farm.
I wanted to be a reporter.
Even though I was about as worldly as Rooster Jim’s hens, I did know that a mild talent and a few pieces published in a small town paper were not sufficient. Women like Nellie Bly did Grand Things; that was how they got to be real writers. Despite its name, Great Falls was hardly the place to do something grand.
Neither was Arlington, Iowa. And even though my heart approved of Charlie’s plan for an “us,” my mind feared that saying yes to him was saying no to myself. I needed to find my own place in the world. My own true place.
And something in me believed that place was connected to the working end of a pen, not a plow. And certainly not a polishing cloth! Every night, after I was done for the day at Mrs. Brown’s, I’d been scribbling away in children’s composition books—the cheapest I could find at the five-and-dime. I copied down inspiring words and snippets of poems, but mostly I used those pages to practice being a reporter.
The first article in my book was about Mrs. Brown’s neighbor, Sam Blessing, who had the brains of a chicken. No, that was an insult to chickens. In a fit of pique at his wife, Sam had shut himself in the shed out back. The shed that locked from the outside. Equally piqued, his wife had not been inclined to unlock the door. It took some serious horse trading on his part to coax her to wield the key and let him out. The bargain they’d struck was reflected in the headline I’d written: “Mrs. Sam Blessing’s Mother to Visit Great Falls for Three Months.”
I was also partial to the piece I’d written about Mrs. Maynard’s dog, Blue. She would send Blue, by himself, to the grocer’s with her shopping list and market basket, and he would return with the requested provisions, carrying the basket handle in his mouth. “Course, I don’t send him after cream,” she’d told me, “lest it would be butter by the time he trotted it home.”
I’d written about the children’s story times at the public library and the Sons of Norway parade, and had even tried my hand at writing a review of the last movie I’d seen at the Gem.
The writing was all in secret. Not a soul knew about my efforts. Had I tried, I might have been able to get one or two of my stories published in the Great Falls Tribune. Considering the prospect, I paused in midscrub of a window, vinegar water dripping down my arm. Might have. But shopping dogs and stubborn men are hardly topics to occupy a real reporter’s time.
My thoughts were interrupted by voices below. Many voices. Melodious voices. The Varietals had arrived!
I finished the window, ditched bucket and rags, and hurried downstairs. Several people, bearing an inordinate amount of luggage, were crowded into the front hall. A young dandy with Brylcreemed hair struck a pose by the hall tree. An ingenue with pouty lips fussed with the hem of her jacket. An older actress wore an overcoat of midnight-blue wool that tapered to an impossibly thin waist before ending a fashionable four inches above her shoe tops. She caught me gawking and I was rewarded with a queenly nod.
Their leader, Mr. Lancaster, stroked his waxed goatee as he parleyed terms with Mrs. Brown. “We have a train to catch on Saturday,” he said.
“Only three nights?” Mrs. Brown’s voice registered disappointment.
“Regrettably, that is the case.” Mr. Lancaster bowed to Mrs. Brown, reached for her hand, and planted a kiss there. “Such is the life of the wandering performer. Now, would you be so kind as to show us to our rooms?”
I headed to the kitchen to start noon dinner as Mrs. Brown settled everyone to rights. The door soon swung open and the Brylcreem man popped his head in. “Might I trouble you for directions to a tobacconist’s?” His smile was straight from an advertisement for Clorox toothpaste, it was that white. “I myself do not indulge. But Miss Clare is convinced Milo cigarettes help relax her vocal cords.”
I gave him directions, for which my reward was another glittering smile.
He had barely exited the room when one of the young women of the troupe slipped in.
“Tobacconist’s?” I asked, anticipating her question.
“What?” She looked puzzled.
“Sorry. That young man with the white smile was just here, asking for directions. I assumed you might need them, too.”
“Cecil?” Her cheeks flushed pink. “I mean, Mr. Hall?”
I started in on a stack of spuds that needed peeling. “I hope I didn’t sound rude. Can I help you?”
“I noticed the clothesline out back. Might I hang some of the costumes for tonight’s performance out to air? You can’t imagine how”—she waggled her eyebrows—”aromatic they get with all those wearings.”
“The neighbors will appreciate the change of scenery,” I said. “Much more interesting than Mrs. Brown’s bloomers.”
She laughed. “I can imagine.”
I showed her to the bucket of clothespins and she went after the costumes, hanging them out to air.
“Oh, you’re making scalloped potatoes,” she said, passing back through the kitchen when she’d finished. “My favorite.”
I took stock of her. There was none of the oiliness that I’d felt from Mr. Hall. And she looked to be about my age. I introduced myself. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Oh, I’d love one.” She sat at the table. “I’m Sylvia. The world’s worst wardrobe mistress, according to her nibs in there.” She took the coffee I offered but shook her head at sugar and cream.
“I thought this job would be so exciting.” Sylvia rolled her eyes. “‘Wardrobe mistress’ is only a fancy term for chief laundress and mender. And all the travel. After this, we’re off to San Francisco.” Elbows on the table, she rested her chin on her hands, wearing a decidedly glum expression.
Imagine feeling blue about going somewhere like San Francisco. Think of all that happened in such a place! A person could write news stories there till her arm fell off. “Why do you keep with it?” I asked, sprinkling flour over the top of the potatoes in the baking dish.
She glanced around, then ducked her head close to mine. “Cecil,” she whispered.
I wrinkled my forehead, trying to think. See sill? What? Then it hit me. “You mean Mr. Hall?”
Sylvia put her finger to her lips. “Our secret, promise?”
“Cross my heart.”
“You’re a peach.” She gave me a friendly wink. “The coffee hit the spot. Thanks. Back to the salt mines.”
She paused with her hand on the swinging door. “Say. Would you like to come to the show tomorrow night? I can get you a ticket. On the house.”
A live vaudeville show. I’d never seen one before. And for free! “That’s kind of you. I’d love it.”
“It will be quite the performance.” She flashed a mysterious smile. “One you won’t want to miss.”
Thanks to Sylvia’s generosity, the next night I found myself in a plush maroon seat in the tenth row, center section, of the Grand Opera House. I held the printed program in gloved hands. Out of loyalty to my benefactor, the first thing I did was look for Cecil Hall’s name. There it was, in minuscule print, near the bottom of the last page. Taking up most of the program were the names of Ellington Lancaster—”Founder and Principal, Venturing Varietals” and “Marquis of the Footlights”—and Vera Clare, who was not only “Empress of Emotion” but also “Queen of the Varietal Stage.”
My neighbor was a chatty woman whose hat would’ve been better suited to someone with a face less like a pumpkin. She pointed to Cecil’s name on the program. “I saw him in Helena,” she confided. “He plays a magician that makes himself disappear.” Her eyes twinkled. “My nephew told me how it’s done. It’s called a Hamlet trap. They rig up this door in the stage floor. The actor steps on it just so and poof! Gone.” She sighed. “I come all this way to see him again.”
The burgundy velvet curtain began to rise, earning me a poke in the ribs from my neighbor. For a plump woman, she had sharp bones. “Show’s starting,” she stage-whispered.
I nodded, edging myself a bit farther away from that pain-inflicting elbow as I settled in to enjoy the evening. The opening act was a comic duo from Great Falls. They performed a skit involving an accordion, a ridiculously large woman’s hat, and a wheelbarrow. I laughed so hard, I thought I might slip right out of my chair and into the aisle.
Vera Clare was stunning in her role as a grieving mother in a short play called Mama’s Boys. I wept as hard as I’d laughed earlier. For a small woman, she radiated great stage presence. All around me, audience members—even men!—were dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs. To think that Sylvia found traveling with such a troupe to be wearing! From my plush seat, the dramatic life seemed nothing but thrilling.
After the intermission, Cecil’s time in the spotlight finally arrived. I had to admit, he did look dashing in that black top hat and red-satin-lined magician’s cape. I found his delivery a trifle melodramatic, but my neighbor could not take her eyes off him. She grabbed my arm as he moved center stage. “The line will be ‘Exemptum exactum,'” she murmured. No sooner had she uttered the words than Cecil, too, pronounced them, though much more theatrically.
“Exemptum exactum!” His baritone voice rang out over the hall. Then, with a swoosh of his cape, he vanished. A woman behind me shrieked in surprise. My heart raced and I gripped the seat arms. Even though I’d been forewarned, Cecil’s departure was exceedingly dramatic.
It wasn’t until later that I would learn exactly how dramatic it had been.
You can watch the Newbery Panel video (filmed during the 2013 mid-winter American Library Association in Seattle) featuring Kirby with Christopher Paul Curtis, Jennifer Holm, Louis Sachar, Jerry Spinelli, Rebecca Stead and Clare Vanderpool:
A downloadable excerpt of the Listening Library (audio) version is available here: Download MP3
Read by Kirby Larson and Kirsten Potter. Available from Random House Audio.
Playlist courtesy of Cody Miltenberger
Some facts about music Hattie might have listened to:
- Blues and Jazz music gained popularity as jazz musicians traveled around the US with vaudeville.
- Ragtime music, particularly Scott Joplin, was featured at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
- As the US entered World War I, wartime songs became very popular, and some German-influenced lyrics were changed to their American counterpart, i.e. ‘frankfurter’ was changed to ‘hot dog’.
- Musical theater was also popular during this time period, particularly producers like Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, as well as performers like Al Jolson.
- The first jazz record was recorded in 1917 by a white band from New Orleans called “The Original Dixieland Jazz Band”. Shortly after their release they were brought to New York where they became very popular. Also in 1917, a number of ragtime and novelty acts released records in an attempt to follow the success of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what a young mid-western woman might be listening to between 1915 and 1919, but here are some popular songs from several different genres/origins. (Click through on the links to listen to the music, available on other websites.)
- Alexander’s Ragtime Band
- You Made Me Love You
- Ah! Sweet Mystery Of Life
- Over There
- Oh! How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning
- Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous
- How Ya Gonna Keep Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)
- I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles
- Dixieland Jass Band One-Step
- Keep The Home Fires Burning
- Gasoline Gus And His Jitney Bus
- My Lady Of The Telephone
- Moonlight Bay
- There’s A Long, Long Trail A-Winding
- Are You From Dixie?
- Au Revoir But Not Goodbye
Essays by Kirby
Nerdy Book Club: Beach Combing for Books
Dear Teen Me: A Letter to my 17-year old self
International Reading Association (IRA) blog, Engage: Digging for the Details that Make Historical Fiction Delicious
Interviews / Blog Reviews