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Learn with Lillie

If Lillie Belle Gibbs had kept a diary the year she was eleven,  it might have been like this book,  Grasshoppers in My Bed.  A real-life Minnesota farm girl, Lillie loved to write and draw— maybe more than she loved sweeping the henhouse!

The year was 1877.  Back then, people wrote about themselves in journals and letters, not on social media and email. The internet was more than 100 years in the future. Even home electricity was decades away.

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Times were different, but Lillie was a lot like us.  At eleven, she was growing up and forming her own opinions.  Her days were full of school and chores, family and friends, and some surprises— fun and not-so-fun.  (Have you ever found grasshoppers in your bed?)

A scavenger hunt through history

If you've ever been on a scavenger hunt, you know that one clue leads to another, like a trail of breadcrumbs.


And if you've ever watched a detective show, you've seen an investigator hunt for evidence to figure out a story. Guess what? Those are research skills.  Historians use those skills, and so can you.  You can practice with Lillie's story.  


On every page, you'll see the threads that make up the details of Lillie's daily life.  Later you might see some themes or patterns.  


So let's start a scavenger hunt!  Get your copy of Grasshoppers in My Bed.  Then get ready to hunt through the pages, looking for examples and evidence of threads and themes.  


"Swarms of grasshoppers are eating our crops and flying at us from all sides. I find them everywhere in the house. I pull back the covers and find grasshoppers in my bed!" 

— Lillie Belle, April 26

Threads:  Lillie's daily life  

Each question below suggests several answers—topics Lillie wrote about in her diary. Find those entries and hunt for the topics. Then "research" the book further to list more examples, or find brand-new answers to the question.  

1. What did Lillie do each day, and how did that change with the seasons? Compare her days to your own. 
  • chores: daily, weekly, and seasonal tasks (Jan. 19)

  • school days (Aug. 31)

  • reading for enjoyment (Jan. 2) 

  • penmanship and handwork projects (May 11)

  • activities with friend Minna (Nov. 17) 

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2.  The Gibbs family produced food for themselves and for market.  What did they need to make a success of their farm?​
  • good land and weather to grow crops (May 9)

  • animals for food and farm work (March 25)

  • help from family, neighbors, hired hands (April 21)

  • a loyal base of customers (July 25)

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3.  How was life for the Gibbs family in 1877 different from our lives today?  Compare and contrast:
  • food sources and preparation (April 19)

  • family recreation (June 15)

  • tools and conveniences (Jan. 8)

  • modes of transportation (March 31)

  • celebrating holidays (July 4)

4.  Farmers rely on nature's cycles, but surprises can happen.  How did nature challenge the Gibbs family in 1877? 
  • grasshopper swarms (April 26)

  • lightning strikes and fire danger (June 29)

  • unseasonable heat or cold (Feb. 21)

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5.  Why might neighbors be important to farm families?
  • to help each other with big jobs (Dec. 27, 1876)

  • to lend tools and knowledge (Sept. 22)

  • to share friendship and holidays (Jan. 21) 

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Themes: Growing up... and changing times  


Look for themes in Lillie's year as a whole.  How is she growing up, and how is her world changing?  Lillie was in the first generation born to Minnesota settlers of European heritage. Her life would be very different from her parents' lives.  

6. What are some signs that show Lillie is growing up?  
  • helping younger children at school (Oct. 8)

  • grown-up gifts of diary and bible (Dec. 25, 1876)

  • being included in grown-up gatherings (April 3)

  • quilting project (Nov. 6)

7.  Minnesota became a territory in 1849 and a state in 1858, drawing many people from other states and countries. Where does Lillie hear stories of such migrations? 
  • Lillie thinks about family and neighbors' origins: where is home? (Feb. 19)

  • Aunt Charlotte's move to Illinois was a "pull factor" for her brother, Lillie's father  (March 23)

8.  Minnesota's landscapes were changing.  New jobs were available, and more money was changing hands. What evidence does Lillie see of these trends? 
  • hired hands also work as loggers (Oct. 30)

  • flour milling industry is growing (Sept. 8)

  • more goods are available to buy (Oct. 6)

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