Grasshoppers in My Bed

Grasshoppers in My Bed: Lillie Belle Gibbs, Minnesota Farm Girl, 1877
Written by Terry Swanson, illustrated by Peggy Stern

Published by the Ramsey County Historical Society

Grasshoppers in My Bed: Lillie Belle Gibbs, Minnesota Farm Girl, 1877 is a softcover book that includes additional historical materials and suggested reading lists, written for eight-to-eleven-year olds in third to sixth grade. It is available for preorder beginning May 2, or it can be purchased from RCHS and other vendors after the May 28 book launch.

Pre-Sale Price through May 28, 2022: $16.00 (optional shipping is an additional $3.50)
Grasshoppers in My Bed Pre-sale Order Form
Please note: Books will be available for pick-up or shipping in mid-to late-May

“What was it really like to live on a farm in the 1800s?” That question, once posed by a camper at the historic Gibbs Farm site, is answered in the new book Grasshoppers in My Bed: Lillie Belle Gibbs, Minnesota Farm Girl, 1877 by author Terry Swanson and illustrator Peggy Stern. The work of historical fiction captures a year in the life of youngest daughter Lillie Belle Gibbs. Ramsey County Historical Society (RCHS), which operates the farm site in Falcon Heights, is launching the one-of-a-kind book during the Gibbs Farm Opening Day on May 28, 2022, from 10 am to 4 pm at 2097 Larpenteur Avenue W.

The Heman and Jane Gibbs family acquired the land north of St. Paul in 1849 and raised their children there. Heman was a market farmer, delivering fresh produce to accounts to the towns of St. Anthony, St. Paul, and Minneapolis. His wife, children, and seasonal field hands helped keep the business in operation for many years.

In 1949, a century after the farm’s founding and thanks to the early efforts of local citizens and Gibbs family members, the then one-hundred-year-old property was saved from impending demolition. Soon after, staff with the newly created Ramsey County Historical Society set to work to preserve, study, and document the Gibbs family history so future questions like the one posed by the young camper could be answered.

Beginning in 2007, Swanson worked as Gibbs Farm program and site manager for ten seasons and often answered similar questions. “We’ve been sharing the story of the Gibbs family for decades now, focusing primarily on the life of Jane DeBow Gibbs, the matriarch of the family,” Swanson says. As a child, Jane spent time living near Ȟeyáta Othúŋwe (Cloud Man’s Village), which was situated between Lake Harriet and the lake today called Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis. As an adult, Lillie documented many of her mother’s childhood memories with the Dakota.

After retiring, Swanson wondered if there was enough primary source material to tell Lillie’s story. The RCHS archives contain photographs, maps, programs, a personal Bible, Lillie’s dictionary, and a few of her school notebooks full of essays, spelling words, and penmanship assignments, along with historical accounts from Lillie’s brother and her father’s accounting books. “As far as we know, Lillie didn’t leave a diary, per se,” says Swanson, “Yet, there was enough historical evidence to establish an accurate imagining of the daily happenings at the farm when Lillie was eleven. A diary genre seemed the best way to answer the questions about day-to-day living at the site.” It encourages young people to ask questions about their own families, providing opportunities to better understand their heritage by searching through ancestral documents. In addition, it’s hoped the diary will encourage children to record their experiences by writing accounts of daily life today.

Because Lillie loved to sketch, Swanson felt it important to incorporate illustrations into the book. She enlisted local artist Peggy Stern to be the illustrator. Not only did Stern sketch and paint over 200 individual images for the project, she patiently and carefully hand-lettered title and chapter pages and designed the colorful, creative crazy quilt-themed cover.

The 176-page book with a map and 138 diary entries from December 1876 through December 1877 is written for eight-to-eleven-year olds in third to sixth grade. It encourages young people to ask questions about their own families, providing opportunities to better understand their heritage by searching through ancestral documents. In addition, it’s hoped the diary will encourage children to record their experiences by writing accounts of daily life today. And if those writings are preserved, ten decades from now, children of the future could be discovering what life was like in the early years of the twenty-first century. “That’s really the whole point of the book,” says RCHS President Chad Roberts. “Inspiring the next generation to preserve their heritage while learning about their ancestors is a win-win for our community.

“Several years ago, we published Jane Gibbs:Little Bird That Was Caught” by Anne Neuberger,” Roberts adds. “That work was about the early years of Lillie’s mother. With Grasshoppers in My Bed, we have come full circle.” This new “diary” of a real-life Minnesota farm girl provides another way for RCHS to share the Gibbs story.

Swanson and Stern will be on site at Gibbs Farm Opening Day the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, with author talks, activities, and book signings scheduled in the Red Barn at 10:30 am, and 12:30 and 2:30 pm. Also that day, guests at Gibbs may take farmhouse and Dakota lifeways tours, see farm animals, and participate in a chore obstacle course and other farm demonstrations. Admission is $8 adults, $7 seniors, $5 children over four. RCHS members are free. The book may be pre-ordered beginning May 2. Contact events@rchs.com for more information, and interested vendors and media may contact editor@rchs.com.

Visit the related website  www.grasshoppersinmybed.com to learn more about Lillie Belle Gibbs and upcoming events.

FOR INFORMATION ABOUT GIBBS FARM (opening day, day camps, or other events), email gibbs@rchs.com or call 651-646-8628.

About the Author: Terry Swanson is a Minnesota historian who has specialized in public history in the Twin Cities area since 1990. She was director of collections, education, and programs at the American Swedish Institute from 1997 to 2005. She worked as program and site manager at the RCHS Gibbs Farm from 2007 to 2016. Since retiring in 2017, she has worked as a historical consultant and with Investigate MN, a partnership designed to close the educational achievement gap.

About the Illustrator: Peggy Stern is a former site interpreter at Gibbs Farm, where she handcrafted murals and signage to enhance the venue. Stern holds a degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and has continued her art education at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and at Minnetonka and White Bear Centers for the Arts.

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Grasshoppers in My Bed: Lillie Belle Gibbs, Minnesota Farm Girl, 1877 is a softcover book that includes additional historical materials and suggested reading lists. It is available for preorder beginning May 2, or it can be purchased from RCHS and other vendors after the May 28 book launch.

Softcover. 176-pages, with map and 138 diary entries from December 1876 through December 1877. Written for eight-to-eleven-year olds in third to sixth grade.

Pre-Sale Price through May 28, 2022: $16.00 (optional shipping is an additional $3.50)
Grasshoppers in My Bed Pre-sale Order Form
Please note: Books will be available for pick-up or shipping in mid-to late-May