Shaw, Janet 1937-
Shaw, Janet 1937-
Janet Shaw 1937-
(Full name Janet Beeler Shaw) American novelist, poet, and short story writer.
Shaw is known for her accessible, historical novels aimed at a juvenile audience. Part of the American Girl series, which focuses on the lives of young female protagonists in different time periods of American history, her novels are noted for their historical research and cultural sensitivity.
Shaw was born on September 30, 1937, in Springfield, Illinois, to Russel Henry, a teacher, and Nadina, a homemaker. Shaw obtained her A.A. from Stephens College in 1957 and her B.A. from Goucher College in 1959. She received an M.A. in 1975 from Cleveland State University. Shaw has worked as a freelance writer and as a lecturer at several colleges. She began her literary career writing poetry and short stories. Her first novel, Taking Leave (1987), was aimed at an adult audience. In the mid-1980s, Shaw began writing juvenile novels for the Pleasant Company's American Girl series, centering on the characters Kirsten and Kaya.
Meet Kirsten: An American Girl (1986) introduces the character of ten-year-old Kirsten Larson and her family. The novel is set in 1854 as the Larsons, Swedish immigrants, prepare to make a new life in Minnesota. The family faces perils as they cross the Atlantic to New York and then travel to their new home in Minnesota. Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story (1986) centers on the Swedish Saint Lucia celebration. Kirsten is surprised to learn that her cousins in Minnesota are not familiar with this part of their heritage. She and her cousins plot to surprise everyone with a Saint Lucia celebration. In Happy Birthday, Kirsten!: A Springtime Story (1987), Kirsten celebrates her birthday with a day off from her chores, a party at a barn-raising, and the making of a friendship quilt. The novel focuses on everyday life on the farm in Minnesota. In Changes for Kirsten: A Winter Story (1988), Kirsten finds a baby raccoon and brings it home. The family's cabin burns down when the raccoon runs wild in the house and starts a fire. The family moves in with relatives while waiting for Mr. Larson to return from his job at a logging camp. Through fortuitous circumstances and a little help from Kirsten and her brother Lars, the family acquires a nicer house.
Meet Kaya (2002) introduces Kaya, a Nez Perce girl living in the American Northwest in 1764. Kaya must face the disapproval of the other children in the tribe when they discover that Kaya has neglected her duties. In Kaya's Escape: A Survival Story (2002), Kaya disobeys her mother, and she and her sister, Speaking Rain, are kidnapped by a band of raiders. Kaya knows that Speaking Rain's blindness will make escape difficult, so she leaves her sister and makes the difficult journey through the mountains to return home. Kaya vows to return and save Speaking Rain. In Kaya's Hero (2002), Kaya recognizes that she does not have the courage or wisdom to rescue her sister, and she works with her friend Swan Circling to prepare herself.
Shaw's novels are generally reviewed in conjunction with other books from the American Girl series. There is some disagreement over the quality of the novels. Critics generally agree that the books are written to formula and are commercial in nature. Elaine Fort Weischedel concluded in School Library Journal that Meet Kirsten: An American Girl is "bland and superficial." However, Genevieve Stuttaford, in Publishers Weekly, called Shaw's Kirsten books "well-written and thoughtful stories." Several critics have complained about the lack of character development in Shaw's novels, noting that the brief nature of the stories does not lend itself to exploring peripheral characters. Other reviewers have praised Shaw for her culturally sensitive portrayal of Kaya. They generally appreciated the intent of the American Girl series, and several asserted that serves as a good introduction to historical novels for adolescent girls. In Small Press Janice Glover concluded, "The Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly books … succeed in their purpose of entertaining girls while they inform them about the history of this country."
Shaw's Taking Leave was cited for outstanding literary achievement by the Wisconsin Library Association.
Kirsten's Lesson: A School Story (novel) 1986
Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story (novel) 1986
Meet Kirsten: An American Girl (novel) 1986
Happy Birthday, Kirsten!: A Springtime Story (novel) 1987
Changes for Kirsten: A Winter Story (novel) 1988
Kirsten Saves the Day: A Summer Story (novel) 1988
Kirsten on the Trail (novel) 1999
Kirsten and the New Girl (novel) 2000
Kirsten Snowbound! (novel) 2001
Kirsten's Story Collection (novel) 2001
Kaya Learns a Lesson: A Survival Story (novel) 2002
Kaya's Escape: A Survival Story (novel) 2002
Kaya's Hero: A Story of Giving (novel) 2002
Kaya's Surprise: A Story for the New Year (novel) 2002
Meet Kaya: An American Girl (novel) 2002
KIRSTEN'S SURPRISE: A CHRISTMAS STORY (1986)
Carolyn B. Gwinn (essay date 21 June 1999)
SOURCE: Gwinn, Carolyn B. "Crown of Lights: Preserving Sweden's Lucia Celebration." Bookbird 37, no. 2 (21 June 1999): 42-3.
[In the following essay, Gwinn discusses the historical and cultural importance of the Swedish Santa Lucia celebration and how it is modified by Swedish immigrants as exemplified in Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story.]
Preserving traditions from the home country and keeping them meaningful and alive for future generations is a challenging task for most immigrant communities. Luciadagen, or the Santa Lucia celebration, lives on in Swedish cultural enclaves in the United States and its continuation is promoted by children's books, such as Janet Shaw's Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story (Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company, 1986). This story is an example of the desire to keep traditions alive in a very different cultural environment.
Let me begin by highlighting the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of the Lucia celebration in Sweden. Lucia was born to wealthy and noble parents in Syracuse, Italy, during the third century.1 At a young age, Lucia developed an unwavering commitment to serve Christ and minister to the poor. In time, Lucia, against her will, was pledged to marry a pagan nobleman. Shortly before their marriage, Lucia gave her inheritance to the poor. Lucia's suitor was angered by his future bride's commitment to Christianity and the loss of the anticipated dowry, and he was instrumental in Lucia's martyrdom. According to one source,2 she was condemned to burn at the stake, but when she emerged unharmed, she was slain with a sword. Years later, she was canonized as Saint Lucia by the church. According to folklore, a peasant saw Lucia in a vision, dressed in white and wearing a crown of lighted candles, as she brought food to Swedish people in a province gripped by famine. Lucia's name day, December 13 (the darkest and shortest day of the year according to the Julian calendar), became a Swedish holiday. Lucia's name and image symbolize not only light to the sun-starved people of the North, but also succor in time of need.
Luciadagen is also considered part of the Swedish Christmas season. In homes where the tradition is followed, children rise early and dress in traditional Lucia clothing. The eldest daughter, acting as Lucia, wears the customary white chemise gown with a red sash at her waist. A wreath of lingonberry sprigs, aglow with candles, is placed on Lucia's head. Lucia bears a tray of coffee, pepparkakor (ginger cookies), and sweet saffron-flavored rolls. Her siblings may join in the procession: sisters, referred to as angels, dress in long white gowns and sash and carry a single candle, and brothers, referred to as Star Boys, carry a star-tipped wand and wear tall conical paper hats and white robes. As Lucia and the members of her procession enter each darkened bedroom singing the Sicilian folk song "Santa Lucia," family members are awakened and served the customary breakfast.
In Sweden, local communities and institutions celebrate this holiday by selecting a Lucia to lead a procession of girls and boys. The largest public Lucia celebration occurs in Stockholm, where girls compete for the title of Stockholm Lucia. A highlight for the chosen Lucia is being crowned by the most recent recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Lucia celebration ends with a candlelight parade through Stockholm. During her year-long reign, Stockholm's Lucia makes appearances at surrounding hospitals and nursing homes.
The Santa Lucia celebration has spread from Sweden to the neighboring countries of Finland, Norway, and Denmark. This tradition has also been preserved by Swedish immigrants to the United States, where Lucia celebrations similar to those in Sweden occur annually in cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia.
Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story is a fiction book that tells of Kirsten, a nine-year-old Swedish immigrant to the United States in 1854, who is homesick for the traditional events that surround the Lucia celebration, including its role in the Christmas festivities. Kirsten and her family settle in a log cabin on Uncle Olav's Minnesota farm. She is disappointed when her cousins Anna and Lizbeth are unaware of Saint Lucia. With December 13 rapidly approaching, Kirsten explains the Saint Lucia tradition to Anna and Lizbeth, and they secretly begin to plan a celebration. Kirsten realizes that her customary white nightdress and red sash are stored in their trunks in Maryville, a small town ten miles from their home. Papa and Kirsten travel by horse-drawn sleigh to retrieve the trunks, and on their way home, they encounter a blizzard. Blackie, the horse, becomes frightened and Papa is injured, but Kirsten courageously leads them back home. After a warm welcome, the white nightdress and red sash are secretly removed from the trunks and Kirsten quietly adorns herself in the traditional Lucia costume. Kirsten's family and teacher are delighted when Kirsten, acting as Lucia, invites everyone to breakfast.
The fact that Swedish immigrants' assimilation into a new culture may cause slight modifications in how Santa Lucia is celebrated is evidenced in Kirsten's Surprise. Kirsten, whose name has been Americanized from the Swedish "Kerstin," serves Christmas bread rather than Lucia buns, but key components of the celebration remain intact and provide a source of cultural pride to Swedish American children. This book introduces readers, among them perhaps fourth-and fifth-generation descendants of early Swedish immigrants as represented by Kirsten, to an old Swedish custom that is still observed in Sweden and by Swedish communities abroad.
- See Florence Ekstrand, Lucia, Child of Light: The History and Traditions of Sweden's Lucia Celebration (Mount Vernon, WA: Welcome Press, 1989); and Jan-öjvind Swahn, Maypoles, Crayfish and Lucia: Swedish Holidays and Traditions (Värnamo, Sweden: Falths Tryckeri, 1994).
- "Santa Lucia Festival," http://www.psnw.com/~geo/santa_lucia.html. Local celebrations in the United States are described on web pages and in community newspapers.
MEET KIRSTEN: AN AMERICAN GIRL (1986)
Genevieve Stuttaford (review date 31 October 1986)
SOURCE: Stuttaford, Genevieve. Publishers Weekly 230, no. 18 (31 October 1986): 68.
Three novels from the American Girls Collection [Meet Kirsten: An American Girl, Kirsten Learns a Lesson: A Survival Story, Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story, ] introduce Kirsten and her family, immigrants from Sweden who hope to begin a new life in Minnesota in 1854. Kirsten suffers minor miseries—getting lost in New York, leaving a beloved doll behind, learning English, worrying that Christmas will never be the same. She also confronts major troubles—her best friend, a Swedish girl named Marta, dies from cholera on the trip across America, and Kirsten and her father almost perish in a blizzard. "A Look Back" is a follow-up section in each book that includes photos and historical facts about the period. With full-color, realistic art throughout, these are well-written and thoughtful stories, reflecting not only the joys and sorrows of the immigrant/pioneer experience, but those of any third grade girl.
Elaine Fort Weischedel (review date November 1986)
SOURCE: Weischedel, Elaine Fort. School Library Journal 33, no. 3 (November 1986): 85.
Gr 3-5—Three nine-year-old girls are the focus of these introductory volumes [Susan Adler's Meet Samantha, Janet Shaw's Meet Kirsten: An American Girl, and Valerie Tripp's Meet Molly]. All three stories are bland and superficial, and the girls seem more like paper dolls than characters. Each slim book opens with a two-page portrait gallery of the girl's family and friends and concludes with a six-page "Looking Back" section that provides historical background for the story's events. Samantha is a privileged orphan who lives with her wealthy grandmother in 1904. She meets Nellie, a sickly child, and the two devise a way to learn why Jesse, a black seamstress, has suddenly left her grandmother's employment. Meet Kirsten 's title character is a Swedish immigrant whose story begins on board ship in 1854 as she and her family journey to Minnesota to join relatives. Molly's doctor father is with the army in England in 1944, and her mother is working for the Red Cross. Molly battles the housekeeper over a plate of mashed turnips, agonizes over Halloween costumes with two friends, and plots revenge on brother Rich when he ruins the girls' costumes and treats. Kirsten's bereavement, Samantha's earnest plea to Grandmary to help Nellie's poor family, and the speech that Molly's mother makes on the necessity of getting along with your family in a world at war are just words on a page. The color illustrations vary from full page with caption to half page to margin decoration and are as lifeless as the text, accurately showing wooden characters posing for portraits. There are many better books available that treat growing up on the frontier, at the turn-of-the-century, and during World War II—Wilder's "Little House" series (Harper), Brink's Caddie Woodlawn (Macmillan, 1970), Ruth Sawyer's Roller Skates (Dell, 1969), Wolitzer's Introducing Shirley Braverman (Farrar, 1975) among them. Stick with them.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KIRSTEN!: A SPRINGTIME STORY (1987)
Carolyn Phelan (review date 1 April 1988)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Booklist 84, no. 15 (1 April 1988): 1353.
Gr. 3-5. The three heroines of the American Girls Collection celebrate their birthdays in ways that reflect their times [in Janet Shaw's Happy Birthday Kirsten! and Valerie Tripp's Happy Birthday Molly! and Happy Birthday Samantha!]. Kirsten Larson, growing up on a Minnesota farm in 1854, relishes the gift of a day off from the household chores, which she took over when her mother had a baby. Kirsten's quiet joys (a friendship quilt, a kitten to nurse) are quite believable against the unromanticized backdrop of everyday life on a farm. Molly (1944) shares her room and her birthday party with an English girl who has been evacuated from London during the blitz. While depicting the emotional seesawing of their friendship, Tripp contrasts the girls' differences effectively. The theme of changing times is hammered a bit heavily in Samantha's story (1904), but the escapades of her twin cousins enliven the plot. An afterword provides historical notes and gives more information about the period of each story. Illustrated in color, the series offers short, simple historical fiction with proven appeal.
Sylvia S. Marantz (review date May 1988)
SOURCE: Marantz, Sylvia S. School Library Journal 35, no. 8 (May 1988): 88.
Gr 1-5—Yes, the American Girls series is written to formula, and yes, it is heavily promoted commercially to sell dolls and related accessories. But the dolls are well crafted and so are the stories. Each book ends with several pages of illustrated factual "Looking Backward" information. The writing style [in Janet Shaw's HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KIRSTEN!: A SPRINGTIME STORY and Valerie Tripp's Happy Birthday, Molly! and Happy Birthday, Samantha!] is lively, the characters believable although not deeply delineated, and the action in the short chapters is enough to hold the attention of young readers. The birth of Kirsten's baby sister and the making of a friendship quilt along with her tenth birthday party at a barn-raising are the major events of Kirsten's story, set in Minnesota in 1854. The discussion of the dangers of tornadoes and the high mortality of infants in those days add serious notes to the generally happy tale. Samantha's fancy tenth birthday party in 1904 is followed by a trip to New York City and a wild chase after a mischievous puppy, ending at a suffragette meeting. Molly changes her romantic view of wartime England and faces reality when an evacuated British girl her age comes to share her home and birthday. In all the volumes the easy-to-read type and the realistic color illustrations, both full-page and vignette, add to the attractiveness of these unintimidating volumes.
CHANGES FOR KIRSTEN: A WINTER STORY (1988)
Nancy Palmer (review date January 1989)
SOURCE: Palmer, Nancy. School Library Journal 35, no. 5 (January 1989): 83.
Gr 3-6—[Janet Shaw's CHANGES FOR KIRSTEN: A WINTER STORY and Valerie Tripp's Changes for Molly and Changes for Samantha are] three more titles about three girls in different American eras, all dealing with some kind of change in their lives. Kirsten, a ten-year-old Swedish immigrant living with her family on the Minnesota frontier in 1854, must deal with her cabin burning down and moving to a new home. Samantha, a wealthy orphan living with her aunt and uncle in New York City in 1904, spends her five chapters helping her poor friend Nellie, who has been orphaned and sent first to a drunken uncle and then to a Dickensian orphanage replete with evil directress. Molly, a ten-year-old in 1944, is pinning all her hopes on being the tap-dancing Miss Victory in a big show at the veteran's hospital, but things don't work out quite the way she plans. The format of each title is the same. All open with a double-spread of portraits and descriptors introducing the main character's family and friends (although all of the characters may not appear in all stories) and close with a "Looking Back" section which hits the social history highlights of the United States of that period. The stock types ("Samantha's poor friend," "Kirsten's secret friend, an Indian girl," "Molly's other best friend, a cheerful dreamer") seem to preclude much peripheral character development, but also make it possible for each story to stand alone, without having read previous episodes. The brief stories tend to focus on events and action, which makes for a quick pace but some occasional lapses in explanation and follow-through. The six-page historical sections focus on changes in America, particularly for women, and are generally a good back-up to the stories' smoothly integrated period details. The selection of historical photos is excellent, although the texts are unavoidably superficial and stick to a middle-class lens in viewing American life. Their generalizations can also fail to provide a context for specific story events. The full-color illustrations, in occasional full-pages and frequent small edge-of-text drawings, capture the feel of the periods and give life to the characters (although the expressions in Kirsten's story are frequently awkward). While these aren't top drawer items (Kirsten, for example, is no Caddie Woodlawn, nor is her story of Sarah, Plain and Tall caliber), they're certainly lively and appealing enough to serve as introductions to historical fiction.
Carolyn Phelan (review date 1 January 1989)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Booklist 85, no. 9 (1 January 1989): 168.
Gr. 3-5. Devoted readers of The American Girls Collection will welcome three new stories [Janet Shaw's Changes for Kirsten: A Winter Story, Valerie Tripp's Changes for Molly, and Tripp's Changes for Samantha], each set in winter and centered around changes in the girls' lives. Kirsten (1854), a Swedish immigrant to Minnesota, endures a harsh winter. While her father is away logging, their cabin burns to the ground. Through fortuitous circumstances, the family is able to buy a better home. Samantha (1904), a wealthy New Yorker, has, since the remarriage of her grandmother, lived with her uncle and aunt. Her best friend, a poor girl, has been sent to an orphanage with her two sisters. In a happy-ever-after ending, Samantha's aunt and uncle adopt the three sisters. Molly (1944) anticipates her father's return from the warfront, hoping to shine for him when she stars in her school's patriotic dance number. Sacrificing health to vanity, she puts her wet hair in curlers, contracts a fever, and welcomes him home from her sickbed. As is customary in this series, full-color illustrations brighten the pages, and a section at the back explains facets of American culture of the period. Each novel is short, each is flawed, yet a more engaging historical fiction series at this reading level has yet to be written.
KIRSTEN SAVES THE DAY: A SUMMER STORY(1988)
Carolyn Phelan (review date 15 September 1988)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Booklist 85, no. 2 (15 September 1988): 165-66.
Gr. 3-5. Three new entries in the American Girls series [Janet Shaw's Kirsten Saves the Day: A Summer Story, Valerie Tripp's Molly Saves the Day, and Tripp's Samantha Saves the Day] relate summer experiences in the lives of Kirsten, a Minnesota pioneer (1854), Molly, a doctor's daughter (1944), and Samantha, an orphan raised by her wealthy grandmother (1904). Each girl faces something that frightens her and grows up a little in the process. Following the series format, full-color illustrations are scattered throughout the text in the form of postage stamp-size watercolors and ink drawings, as well as full-page plates. An illustrated six-page discussion of each period, here emphasizing summer clothes, conditions, and customs, is appended. While the plots are short and character development is minimal, the books may fill a need for historical fiction at this reading level. The experience of childhood, outwardly so different in each era, yet with common, universal elements, comes softly through. Given the popularity of the series with middle-elementary grade girls, this trio will be in demand.
Zena Sutherland (review date February 1989)
SOURCE: Sutherland, Zena. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 42, no. 6 (February 1989): 157-58.
Gr. 4-6. [Changes for ] Kirsten is set in 1854 and describes the life of a girl who is a member of a family on the Minnesota frontier. [Changes for] Samantha is set in Manhattan in 1904; the protagonist is an orphan living with an aunt and uncle who are wealthy enough and kind enough to take three more orphaned girls (Samantha's friend Nellie and Nellie's little sisters) into their home. In the third book, a family anticipates the return of their soldier father (World War II) and [Changes for] Molly hopes he'll arrive in time to see her take a lead role in a Red Cross show. Historical details are accurate, and the plots are adequately structured, but the writing styles of both authors are rather labored, and the characterization (again, in all three books) is superficial. Each of these books is furnished with several pages of historical background and a stiff paper insert that is part postcard and all promotion.
Janice Glover (review date June 1990)
SOURCE: Glover, Janice. Small Press 8, no. 3 (June 1990): 37.
[Janet Shaw's Changes for Kirsten: A Winter Story, Valerie Tripp's Changes for Samantha and Changes for Molly] are part of The American Girls Collection, a series published by Pleasant Company. Each book follows the same format: drawings of the characters, with brief descriptions; the story in four or five chapters; and "A Peek into the Past," historical vignettes and developments.
Changes for Kirsten takes place in Minnesota in the winter of 1854. While tending traps with her brother Lars, Kirsten finds a baby raccoon and brings it home. The animal runs amok and starts a fire that destroys the Larson's small house and everything in it. The children and their mother go to live with relatives while awaiting Mr. Larson's return from his job in a logging camp. When a house becomes available, the family has no money to buy it; then, because of a death and a discovery, Kirsten and Lars find the means to make their dream possible. Of the three stories, this one has the best-constructed, most interesting plot.
Changes for Samantha is set in New York City in 1904. Samantha comes to live with an aunt and uncle. They are kind people, but Samantha misses her friend Nellie from Mount Bedford. Samantha receives a letter reporting that Nellie's parents have died and that Nellie and her sisters will be living in New York with an uncle. When Samantha goes to find Nellie, she learns that her friend and sisters have been sent to an orphanage. Visiting the orphanage with her aunt, Samantha finds it a cold, grim place run by a very disagreeable woman. Nellie and Samantha agree to meet secretly each day when Nellie takes the fire-place ashes out the back door. One day Nellie tells Samantha that she is being sent West on the "orphan train" to be sold as a servant. She will be separated from her sisters and probably will never see them again. The girls plot a daring escape from the orphanage. The characters are somewhat stereotyped—all "bad" or all "good"—but the social fabric of the times is well-depicted. Today's liberated girls may find it difficult to believe that poor orphans of that day had little choice but to become servant girls, but that was often the case.
Changes for Molly takes place in 1944. It convincingly portrays the concerns of a ten-year-old girl during World War II. This reviewer can relate to Molly's going to Saturday movies that cost twenty-five cents; wanting permanent-waved curls; and worrying about adults who are away fighting or who come home crippled or who never come home. Molly's excitement over being chosen to dance the lead as Miss Victory in the show for the Veteran's Hospital is exceeded only by the news that her father is coming home from the war. Not all goes as planned, but the story ends happily.
The Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly books (there are six or more titles in each series) succeed in their purpose of entertaining girls while they inform them about the history of this country. In addition to the books, Pleasant Company produces Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly dolls and a newsletter.
Recommended for libraries and bookstores. For girls ages seven to eleven.
KAYA'S ESCAPE!: A SURVIVAL STORY (2002), KAYA'S HERO: A STORY OF GIVING (2002), AND MEET KAYA: AN AMERICAN GIRL (2002)
Carolyn Janssen (review date December 2002)
SOURCE: Janssen, Carolyn. School Library Journal 48, no. 12 (December 2002): 108.
Gr 3-6—Kaya [from Kaya's Escape!: A Survial Story and Kaya's Hero ] is a spirited Nez Perce girl of the American Northwest. In the first book she disobeys her mother, endangering herself and her sister. As a result, the girls are kidnapped by a band of raiders. She realizes that Speaking Rain's blindness could impede a successful escape, and she makes the difficult decision to leave her sister behind. Kaya struggles for miles through the cold and rugged mountains to return home. Relieved to be there, she vows to bring her sister home. In Kaya's Hero, she realizes that she must develop more courage and wisdom before a rescue is possible. Swan Circling patiently mentors her young friend as Kaya tries hard to become worthy of the young woman's respect. The plots proceed simply, making the adventures easy for young readers to follow. Kaya is well developed through her action and words. Nez Perce vocabulary is interspersed throughout. The illustrations also give evidence of careful research; full-page paintings and small sketches depict both action and artifacts. The color and detail are reflective of the culture and setting. Information about Nez Perce education, clothing, and crafts helps children to better understand the narrative. Readers of the series will be delighted with this new character, time and culture.
Karen Hutt (review date 1 & 15 January 2003)
SOURCE: Hutt, Karen. Booklist 99, nos. 9-10 (1 & 15 January 2003): 893.
Gr. 3-5. In 1764, nine-year-old Kaya lives in the traditional homeland of the Nez Perce tribe (present-day Idaho, Washington, and Oregon) with her parents, siblings, and Speaking Rain, a blind girl. In Meet Kaya, she neglects her duties and, when the other children find out, she wonders if she will ever live it down. In Kaya's Escape, Kaya and Speaking Rain are captured and taken to an enemy's camp. Determined to escape, Kaya struggles to make it home through the bitter winter weather without supplies. Nez Perce words are used throughout both stories, and a glossary is appended. A closing section in both titles provides cultural and historical information as well as pictures of the Nimiipuu, known today as the Nez Perce. The editorial staff of Pleasant Company worked with the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Council to create an advisory board that supervised all aspects of the project, including the decision to set the story before contact with white explorers and settlers. Both historically accurate and culturally sensitive, Kaya's stories are welcome additions to this publisher's output and a noteworthy result of a unique collaboration.
Shannon Maughan (review date 27 January 2003)
SOURCE: Maughan, Shannon. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 4 (27 January 2003): 122-23.
Perhaps the holiday spirit—and fans' seemingly insatiable desire for American Girl dolls and merchandise—had something to do with it, but girls across the country were very eager to Meet Kaya, propelling the latest historical character from Pleasant Company onto bestseller lists. Meet Kaya, by Janet Shaw, introduces a fictional nine-year-old Nez Perce girl living in 1764 in the Pacific Northwest region. It is one of six books about Kaya released last September with a total first printing of 844,000 copies (a figure that includes paperback, hardcover and boxed-set editions). Kaya joins the highly successful American Girls Collection; the books about her currently total 1.75 million copies in print.
As a multifaceted operation with a retail and consumer direct-mail division, Pleasant Company stands uniquely positioned to promote the American Girls line through its mail-order catalogues (highlighting the Kaya doll and accessories as well as the books) and its glitzy Chicago store (a New York City store is in the works). Features in USA Today, Nick Jr. and Child magazines and a mention on The Today Show also helped get the word out. But booksellers were not left out of the promotion loop; they were able to take advantage of a Kaya floor display, a trading card promotion, a drawing for a Kaya doll and an author tour that began in September and brought Shaw to Portland, Seattle and Chicago.
"We did really well with the Kaya books," said Elly Gore, children's book buyer for the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee. "We had sales similar to those of the Kit books [the American Girl character, launched in 2000]. "Since they [Pleasant Company] are a Wisconsin company, we feel a bit of a connection. And dealing with them is so nice and easy," she added. Gore and others Will no doubt cheer that yet another American Girl (details are still confidential) will be launched in 2004.
Additional coverage of Shaw's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 127; Literature Resource Center ; and Something about the Author, Vol. 61.