Cover image for Sister
Howard, Ellen.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum, 1990.
Physical Description:
148 pages ; 22 cm
Alena, the eldest child of a large family, remains hopeful despite the hardships of growing up on a farm in the late 1800s.
General Note:
"A Jean Karl book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library FICTION Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Alena, the eldest child of a large family, remains hopeful despite the hardships of growing up on a farm in the late 1800s.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-7. Alena Ostermann relishes school and eagerly anticipates eighth grade. Then eavesdropping, she discovers her mother is pregnant for the seventh time and her father would prefer Alena stay home to help. At her mother's insistence, Alena starts the school year, showing uncommon success and winning the attention of her teacher, who sees a bright academic future for her. But tragedy strikes. Alena, who knows nothing about "the birds and the bees," helps deliver her mother's premature baby, who dies soon after. As her mother slips into a deep depression, Alena quits school to become mother to her mother, as well as to the other children. At once harsh and loving, Howard's perspective of farm life in Illinois in the 1800s clearly demonstrates that decisions then were more often determined by necessity than by choice. The differences in families, knowledge (especially in the area of sex education), and dreams a century ago offer broad discussion opportunities. Girls especially will relate to this slice of life about the role of women. ~--Deborah Abbott

Publisher's Weekly Review

This prequel to Edith Herself focuses on the eldest child of the as-yet-unborn Edith's large Midwestern farm family in the 1880s. Twelve-year-old Alena's subjugation of her own identity in service to her siblings is reflected in the way they invariably address her as ``Sister.'' But Alena is not resentful; on the contrary, this likable character feels grateful that she can continue her schooling even though her overtaxed mother is expecting another child, and thrives on the encouragement of her teacher, Mr. Malcolm, ``who had come from another world, a sacred world called College.'' Then everything changes--Alena, heretofore ignorant of the facts of life, single-handedly helps her mother through a premature delivery. Alena's joy in the event vanishes when the newborn dies days later, her mother succumbs to deep depression and Alena, weathering Mr. Malcolm's disapproval, assumes full-time responsibility for the household. Except for the mother's tidy recovery, every facet of this absorbing novel seems lifelike--lyrical evocations of butterflies alighting on fences; period details; the hopeful resolution; and, especially, the descriptions of childbirth and other aspects of female sexuality. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7-9-- This story of the eldest of six children, including Edith of Edith Herself (Atheneum, 1987), is based on the author's own family's remembrances of Illinois farm life in the 1880s. Girls had little need for education; Victorian protocol even prevented their being told the ``facts of life.'' Alena learns them quickly, however, when her mother goes into labor prematurely and there are no adults around. After helping with preparations, cutting the umbilical cord, and cleaning up mother and baby, Alena is asked to name her newest sister. But Matilda Jane lives only three days. Her mother's refusal to accept the actuality of death means that Alena must quit school to stay home and care for her family in an endless chain of chores. The trauma of her first menstrual period pushes Alena to accost her mother forcibly, thus snapping her back to reality. Howard's vivid descriptions of the fundamentals of life are factual without being frightening. Although Alena knows she will probably never be able to finish her schooling, she faces the future undaunted, with hope in the prospect of finding another dream. Sister , true to its time and setting, is nevertheless an apology for the belief that a woman's education is only of peripheral importance. --Katharine Bruner, Brown Middle School, Harrison, TN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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