Parents & Teachers
History comes alive for children through personal stories. Grasshoppers in My Bed is the imagined diary of a real-life Minnesota farm girl in 1877, the year she was eleven. For this historical fiction book, author-historian Terry Swanson and illustrator Peggy Stern drew on facts about the real Lillie Belle Gibbs, her family, and their market garden business in a fast-changing landscape.
Classroom teachers, homeschoolers, and parents of eight- to eleven-year-olds will find ways to teach history through these stories and pictures.
Threads and themes:
Building verbal and research skills
Use the questions on the Learn with Lillie page as prompts to get students thinking, talking, and researching. Students can open that page onscreen, or you can ask the questions aloud. Either way, students can use the book as a research tool.
On every page, students can see the threads that make up the details of Lillie's daily life: farm chores, school, family, and community. Later, as students reflect on the book, they can look for themes or patterns. They'll build research skills as they review the book, looking for examples and evidence of threads and themes.
A school day with Lillie
Using Lillie's March 13 diary entry and map, design a lesson on Minnesota geography and watersheds. (Rivers flow in three directions out of the state: south, east, and north. ) Consider a mapmaking project or a field trip related to Minnesota waterways or geology, perhaps using local stones or fossils.
Students could also practice for a spelling bee, as Lillie's class does that day. Lillie's most challenging words were alienate, ascetic, illegibly, and requital.
Minnesota's first people
The settlers of European heritage who came to Minnesota were not its first people. Find ways to share awareness of Indigenous peoples with your students on an ongoing basis. For your own background, browse this suggested reading from Ramsey County Historical Society, publisher of Grasshoppers in My Bed. You might draw on the RCHS Land Acknowledgment statement: see box.
"Mnisóta Makhóčhe, the land where the waters are so clear they reflect the clouds, extends beyond the modern borders of Minnesota and is the ancestral and contemporary homeland of the Dakhóta (Dakota) people. It is also home to the Anishinaabe and other Indigenous peoples, all who make up a vibrant community in Mnisóta Makhóčhe. Ramsey County Historical Society acknowledges that its sites are located on and benefit from these sacred Dakota lands.
RCHS is committed to preserving our past, informing our present, and inspiring our future. Part of doing so is acknowledging the painful history and current challenges facing the Dakota people just as we celebrate the contributions of Dakota and other Indigenous peoples."
Consider these for your own background or for use with students. Find more resources in Grasshoppers in My Bed, page 153.
Publications by the adult
Lillie Bille Gibbs (LeVesconte)
Little Bird That Was Caught
(St. Paul: Ramsey County Historical Society, 1968)
In this pamphlet, Lillie tells the story of her mother, Jane DeBow Gibbs, who spent part of her childhood among the Dakota people. Born in the Northeast, Jane was brought by an adoptive family to Minnesota in 1834. There, she was befriended by the people of Cloud Man's Village at Lake Calhoun, now known as Bde Maka Ska. Because of her uprooted past, young Jane was given the name Zitkadan Usawin, or "Little Bird That Was Caught."
“Summer Evenings, a Smudge Kettle, Tallow Candles—And Farm Life Recalled”
(Ramsey County History 6, no. 1, Spring 1969)
Lillie shares some of the memories that now appear in Grasshoppers in My Bed. Students could compare this article to the June 15 entry.
A Pioneer Sampler: The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840
by Barbara Greenwood (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Young Readers, 1998)
Food on the Frontier: Minnesota Cooking from 1850 to 1900
by Marjorie Kreidberg (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1975)
Fragile Beauty: The Victorian Art of Pressed Flowers
by Sandy Pucket (New York: Warner Books, 1992)
Visit Gibbs Farm
Bring your students to the real-life farm where Lillie grew up— today a historic site just north of Sain. Paul, Minnesota.
Field trips offer in-depth, age-appropriate tours of the Gibbs farmhouse, one-room schoolhouse, replica soddy, gardens, and more. Also on the site, visitors can explore traditional Dakota lifeways: dwellings, foods, and seasonal practices like maple sugaring and ricing. Craft activities can be included with either or both of these tour options.
Contact for field trips:
Seasonal public hours include brief guided tours.
Day camps are offered in summer for youth ages 4–13.
Gibbs Farm is operated by the Ramsey County Historical Society. Visit the RCHS website for details.