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Kathleen A. Ernst (1959–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1959, in Scranton, PA; Education: West Virginia University, B. S., 1981; Antioch University, M. A., 1993. Politics: "Independent liberal." Religion: Unitarian Universalist. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, hiking, quilting.


Agent—c/o Andrea Cascardi, Transatlantic Literary Agency, Inc., 72 Glengowan Road, Toronto, Ontario M4N IG4, Canada; infotlal.com.


Writer and writing instructor. Interpreter and curator of education and collections, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Eagle, 1982–93; instructional programs developer/project director, Wisconsin Educational Communications Board, Madison, 1994–2003.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, Women Writing the West.

Honors Awards

Award of Excellence, Central Education Network, 1996, for Exploring Wisconsin Our Home; Books for the Teen Age listing, New York Public Library, 1998, for The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry; second place, Wisconsin Regional Writers' Association, 1999, for "Kirsti's Gift"; Crystal Award, Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 2000, for Investigating Wisconsin History; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, 2001, for Trouble at Fort La Pointe; Arthur Tofte Juvenile Fiction Book Award, Council for Wisconsin Writers, 2001, for Retreat from Gettysburg, 2004, for Ghosts of Vicksburg, and 2005, for Betrayal at Cross Creek; Emmy for Outstanding Children's Programming—Children's Series, National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Midwest Chapter, 2002, for Cultural Horizons of Wisconsin; Aurora Award Gold Medal, Aurora Independent Film and Video Competition, for Cultural Horizons of Wisconsin; Wilbur Schramm Award for Excellence, National Educational Telecommunications Association, 2003, for Cultural Horizons; Agatha Award nomination, Malice Domestic, 2003, and Willa Award finalist, Women Writing the West, 2004, both for Whistler in the Dark; Judge's Award for Instructional Innovation, National Educational Telecommunications Association, and Aurora Award Platinum Medal for Best of Show, Aurora International Independent Film and Video Corporation, both 2004, both for Cultural Horizons; Agatha Award nomination, 2004, for Betrayal at Cross Creek.


The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry, White Mane (Shippensburg, PA), 1996.

The Bravest Girl in Sharpsburg, White Mane Kids (Shippensburg, PA), 1997.

Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign, Stackpole (Mechanicsburg, PA), 1999.

Retreat from Gettysburg, White Mane Kids (Shippensburg, PA), 2000.

Ghosts of Vicksburg, White Mane Kids (Shippensburg, PA), 2003.

Danger at the Zoo, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including America's Civil War, Civil War Times Illustrated, Columbiad, Wilderness, Boundary Waters Journal, Wisconsin Trails, and Quilters' Newsletter Magazine.


Trouble at Fort La Pointe, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.

Whistler in the Dark, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2002.

Betrayal at Cross Creek, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2004.


(With others) Exploring Wisconsin, Our Home, Wisconsin Educational Communications Board/Wisconsin Public Television, 1995.

New Dawn of Tradition: A Wisconsin Powwow, Wisconsin Educational Communications Board, 1998.

Investigating Wisconsin History, Wisconsin Educational Communications Board/Wisconsin Public Television, 1998.

(And project director) Cultural Horizons of Wisconsin (series), Wisconsin Educational Communications Board/Wisconsin Public Television, 2002–03.

(And project director) Cultural Horizons (series), Wisconsin Educational Communications Board/Wisconsin Public Television, 2002–03.

Work in Progress

Highland Fling, a contemporary young-adult novel, for Cricket Books, 2006; Hearts of Stone, an historical novel, for Dutton, 2006; Secrets in the Hills, a Josefina mystery, for American Girl, 2006.


Although Kathleen A. Ernst's writing career began as a magazine freelancer and as screenwriter for the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board, her fiction writing started much earlier. "I started writing seriously when I was in my teens," Ernst told Something about the Author (SATA). "Twenty years passed before I got my first book contract. Obviously I enjoy the processing of writing, although getting published is pretty darn nice too."

Ernst's first book contract was for The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry, a novel of the U.S. Civil War. Based on a true story, the novel centers around Solomon Hargreave, a Union soldier in the New York Cavalry Regiment stationed at Harpers Ferry. Solomon saves the life of a young woman, only to find out that her brother is a member of the Confederate army. When Solomon is asked to spy on her family, he must decide who is worthy of his trust. Carolyn Phelan, writing for Booklist, wrote that The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry "conveys the strain of divided families, misguided loyalties," and the difficulties of life during the Civil War.

The Bravest Girl in Sharpsburg, Ernst's second novel, also takes place during the U.S. Civil War. Teresa Kretzer and Savilla Miller, best friends who once shared Kathleen A. Ernst draws on first-hand accounts of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the U.S. Civil War, waged in Sharpsburg, Maryland, in September of 1862 with a community caught in the crossfire. (Cover illustration by Wendy A. Reynolds.)the reputation for being the bravest girls in Sharpsburg, find themselves at political odds as civil war looms over Maryland. Their difficulties come to a head as both girls must face the Battle of Antietam. Ernst told SATA about why she chose to write on historical topics: "Most of my work is historical fiction because that's what I grew up reading, and I still love to disappear into a good historical novel. Novelists know that history is about stories, not strings of dates and facts. When I'm settling in on a new project, I try to find themes and stories that haven't been covered already in fiction—stories that might otherwise be lost."

Having grown up in Maryland, Ernst spent many years visiting the Antietam Battlefield and the small towns nearby. As she explained to SATA, "At that time there was little interest in social history, but I always looked at the old houses near the battlefield and wondered what happened to the people living there when the armies came. That interest led to my lone adult nonfiction book, Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians and the Antietam Campaign, which took over a decade to research and write. The first three Civil War novels I had published stemmed from research I did for that project, too."

Too Afraid to Cry focuses on the changes civilians were forced to make when the Civil War landed on their doorsteps. The Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day in the history of the United States, and while there are numerous military studies of the event, very few books discuss the effect the battle had on the people living in the area, according to Theresa McDevitt of Library Journal, who considered it a "fascinating topic." Sharon Seager, writing in Civil War History, praised Ernst's book, noting that "the writing is vivid, skillfully blending military and social history."

Ernst followed her adult nonfiction book with a third young-adult novel focusing on the same era in history. In Retreat from Gettysburg young Chigger O'Malley's father and three brothers were killed while serving in the Union Army, and Chigger hopes that the Confeder-The family divisions caused by the Civil War are brought to life in this story of Jamie Carswell, who joins the Wisconsin Infantry only to find himself face-to-face with a Confederate cousin when his Union regiment is sent south during the battle of Vicksburg. (Cover illustration by Harry West.)ates suffer a sound defeat. However, when he and his mother are forced to take in a wounded Confederate soldier, he begins to question his own faith in what is right and what is wrong. "Meticulous attention to history is the strong point" of the novel, according to Carolyn Phelan in Booklist. Toniann Scime, writing in School Library Journal, praised the novel as "An excellent example of how to teach history through fiction."

Jamie Carswell and his cousin Althea find themselves on opposite sides of the Civil War in Ghosts of Vicksburg. Though Jamie currently serves in the Fourteenth Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, he grew up summering in Mississippi with his cousins. As Jamie watches as he and the other soldiers cause civilians to suffer, he begins to wonder if the army is doing the right thing. Nancy P. Reeder wrote in her School Library Journal review that Ernst "does a commendable job of remaining neutral."

As well as penning historical fiction, Ernst has written several titles for Pleasant Company's American Girl imprint. As she explained to SATA: "I came to mystery writing unexpectedly when an editor from American Girl invited me to submit a story for the new series being planned, 'History Mysteries.'" Ernst's first novel in the series is Trouble at Fort La Pointe, which takes place in the 1730s. Suzette Choudoir's mother is Ojibwe and her father is a French fur trapper who spends most of the year away from his family. If he wins a fur competition, he will be able to spend the winter with Suzette and her mother, but just as it seems he is about to win, Mr. Choudoir is framed for a crime of theft. Suzette knows her father is not guilty, and she sets out to prove his innocence. Ernst "does a commendable job of integrating setting and cultural details into the story," according to Kay Weisman in a Booklist article, while Maureen Griffin of Kliatt called it "a delight."

Another of Ernst's "History Mysteries" is Betrayal at Cross Creek, which takes place during the American Revolution. Elspeth and her family are Scottish immigrants to the North Carolina territory; her grandfather fought in the war for Scottish independence years earlier and now wants nothing to do with a new war. When the patriots come to convince Elspeth's family to fight, the family is mysteriously put in danger, and Elspeth takes it upon herself to discover the identity of the person who would cause them harm. A Kirkus Reviews contributor considered Betrayal at Cross Creek "a grand read and an important addition" to the historical novels for young adults about the Revolutionary Era. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, noted that Ernst's "characters are drawn with extraordinary depth," while Kristen Oravec of School Library Journal commented, "This well told story has an intriguing plot…. The element of mystery keeps readers guessing."

Ernst once told SATA: "I love research. It's like a treasure hunt! Researching books has taken me from university libraries to the Cincinnati Zoo; from tiny muse-
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ums in rural Scotland to the Smithsonian Institution; from Ojibwe reservations to hiking trails in Colorado; from Highland Games in North Carolina to ghost tours in New Mexico. What could be more fun than that?"

Ernst also offered the following advice to aspiring writers: "One: Take the time to learn your craft. Two: Get connected—join a professional writer's group, and hook up with other writers who can help critique your work. Three: Read a lot. Keep up with work being published in your genre. Read like a writer—take time to analyze what you like, and why."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, January 1, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry, p. 842; September 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Retreat from Gettysburg, p. 239; October 1, 2000, Kay Weisman, review of Trouble at Fort La Pointe, p. 339; September 15, 2003, Traci Todd, review of Trouble at Fort La Pointe, p. 254; March 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Betrayal at Cross Creek, p. 1203.

Civil War History, June, 2000, Sharon Seager, review of Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign, p. 171.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2004, review of Betrayal at Cross Creek, p. 177.

Kliatt, January, 2004, Maureen Griffin, review of Trouble at Fort La Pointe, p. 51.

Library Journal, June 15, 1999, Theresa McDevitt, review of Too Afraid to Cry, p. 89.

School Library Journal, December, 2000, Carrie Schadle, review of Trouble at Fort La Pointe, p. 144, Toniann Scime, review of Retreat from Gettysburg, p. 144; July, 2003, Katherine Devine, review of Trouble at Fort La Pointe, p. 71; December, 2003, Nancy P. Reeder, review of Ghosts of Vicksburg, p. 150; May, 2004, Kristen Oravec, review of Betrayal at Cross Creek, p. 146.


Kathleen A. Ernst Home Page, http://www.kathleenernst.com (June 7, 2005).

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