Friday, December 28, 2012

Butter in the Well: A review, and interview and a giveaway!

   Earlier this year a friend of mine gave me some books, knowing that I am into all things prairie and Swedish and pioneering. 
In the pile of good reading was this slim volume by Kansas author Linda K. Hubalek, "Butter in the Well."
     I found this book very intriguing on many levels--- not only is it written in a diary style that covers 20 years of a Swedish immigrant woman's life on the Kansas prairie-- but the people and places are actually historically true. And in a twist of fate most intriguing, the author grew up on the same farm and in the very house that Kajsa Svensson Runeberg and her family built and lived in for many years. This unique and intimate connection to Kajsa's story and the very land she struggled to make into a home has made Linda's book all the more poignant and real.
    The story begins in 1868, when young Kajsa and her husband Carl Johan and their baby Anna Christina are journeying from Illinois (where they lived for a year after initially arriving from Sweden) to the rough and foreign terrain of central Kansas. The Svensson family tackle almost unimaginable obstacles-- living in a crude earthen dwell dug out of the ground, struggling with the climate, the wild animals (including snakes falling through the sod ceiling!) and building their lives and identities in a new land.
   Kajsa's quiet fortitude in the face of great joy and great sorrow is admirable, and also makes one realize how much our ancestors struggled with in order to survive and thrive in the New World.
   Kajsa's story is amazing in it's quiet simpleness, and I couldn't help but admire her for her fortitude, faith, and ability to keep on going when it seemed almost impossible to do so.
   Ultimately, Butter in the Well is a story that anyone with an interest in pioneering, prairie culture, and Scandinavian immigrants will enjoy. 
   The book is also filled with great family photos of Kajsa and her home and family, maps and even some recipes.
    It is also just the first in a series of books that the prolific author has written, and I can't wait to delve into her other books! 

    Not too long ago I had the pleasure of chatting with Linda K. Hubalek about her books, and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions I had after reading Butter in the Well.
   I thought you might like to hear some of her great answers, and learn a little more about what went in to writing such a unique book:

    How did you first come to learn about Kajsa and the family that built your home and originally
settled your childhood farm? Was it part of your childhood, or something you researched as an

Linda: Kajsa’s (and her sibling’s) descendants lived around our farm, so I knew them growing up. Kajsa’s daughter Julia married the boy next farm over and was like a grandmother to me.
    Over the years Julia gave me things to play with or keep, and as I worked on Kajsa’s book I realized they had been a part of the first pioneer family’s life.
   Julia gave me an old paper tree to put in my playhouse. When I started working on the book I realized it was their ljus korna! (I still have a cluster of tiny glass bulbs that had been fastened to the tree.)
   A quilt she gave me was an 1890’s crazy quilt, sewn and quilted in the house I grew up in, and which Kajsa would have helped made.
    Kajsa’s youngest daughter Mabel had a camera in the early 1900’s and family members shared photos with me. Photos in the house and around the farm put their family in the same place I spent time, only in a different decade.
   So many little things like what I’ve mentioned have tied me to Kajsa and her family while I was growing up, and still do now fifty years later.

2. What inspired you to tell Kajsa's story in diary format?
     My mom gave me a diary for Christmas the year before I was married so I could record my wedding plans. I used it to write about my daily life, and have been doing it now for 36 years.
    When I first started working on the Butter in the Well book, I only have bits and pieces of
Kajsa’s life, so it was easy for me to write her story as diary entries.
  And I don’t like to write dialog- so I write my books more as an insight into the character’s
feelings instead of interacting with other people.

3. What was it about Kajsa as a historical figure and a character that made you want to tell this pioneering story through her perspective?
   I was researching my Swedish Johnson side of the family, but didn’t find much information on their journey to Kansas or their first years on their homestead.
   Then I realized I had a wealth of information on Kajsa because of me growing up on her
homestead, and the neighborhood connection. It just fell in place to write her story because I
could feel the ties and emotions we both had to the same place.

4. In your opinion, what abilities or attributes made Swedish (and Scandinavian settlers in general) succeed in taming the prairie?
    Our community was started by Swedish farmers coming for land, so they knew they were
starting from scratch, plus they had the knowledge to build their homesteads and grow crops.
    I’ve been to Sweden and seen where my ancestors first lived. The scenery happens to be very similar to our part of Kansas, but the weather, especially during the summer, would have been a major adjustment for them. Luckily the Swedes came to this area in groups, or came to join other family members or friends, so there was a network of support for each other.
   In most cases the Swedish immigrants spent all their money getting here, so were forced to make it work. We joke now that we’re “stubborn Swedes” but that was a trait that helped the first Swedes in the area to survive and thrive on the Kansas prairie.


  I have great news for you now, my readers! Not only is Linda's book available to purchase online, but she has generously donated a FREE Kindle eBook edition of her book Butter in the Well to a lucky reader here at Scandinavian Folk! All you need to do is a leave a comment here on this post. And if you share the review and giveaway info on your own blog or facebook, feel free to post here again to let me know and increase your chances of winning! This giveaway will be open through JANUARY 5, 2013! 

And of course---Thanks SO much to Linda as well for her generosity and the time she took to talk with me and such a great interview!

Happy a happy New Year! And thanks for stopping by!~


  1. I found this fascinating because I have been interested in the early settlers on the Prairie for many decades. The hardships that these settlers endured were unbelievable. How they were able to not give up and return east is a mystery to me. The memories of author Linda Hubalek are so worth saving for the rest of us to learn about how America was truly settled. One determined family at a time.

    I don't own a Kindle, but I will pursue a hardcopy to enjoy. Thanks for this interesting and personal story of a piece of our tapestry of the mid-west.

  2. Sounds like a great book to read cuddled up on the couch, fire in the fire place and the snow falling softly

  3. I'd love to win - my grandparents on my mother's side were both Swedish immigrants who settled in Jamestown, NY, another big Swedish settlement!

  4. Hello everyone! This is Linda Hubalek, the author of the Butter in the Well book series. Thanks for reading this review, and for your interest. If you have any ancestors that came to America- be it Swedes to NY, or Germans to North Dakota, they all experienced the same things, and my books will give you a glimpse of their early lives. Enjoy! And as a Swede would say "tack så mycket" (Thank you very much!)

    1. HI Linda. I am so glad that Heather introduced us to your book. I just purchased a copy on My husband's family immigrated here from Norway about 1902 and settled in New York City. My father's family immigrated here from Ireland and moved to the mid-west. I am looking forward to learning more about the common early experiences of those brave souls who chose to push onward against much adversity.

    2. Hi Winnie,
      Which book did you start with? I have ten books so I hope you eventually enjoy them all!
      Linda Hubalek

  5. How cool!! I love history like this, especially from a female's point of view! Thank you for offering a free download!

  6. I see you've been a very busy girl since my last visit some time ago.
    There's nothing like the tale of those who through fortitude, faith and dedication settled the land and made it their home.
    My very best wishes for a wonderful New Year's and the best for 2013...

  7. ive always been interested in early pioneer life. it helps me get through our daily struggles. i would love to win this book:-)

  8. My grandparents came from Sweden and settled in Jamestowm NY, which was a popular area for Swedes to settle in.

  9. Well, this sounds fantastic! Thank you for introducing us to Linda and her book.

  10. My daughter's and I love diary style books on frontier life and this one sounds very interesting indeed. I would love to win and have shared this wonderful giveaway for others to have a chance to win on my F.B.

    And blogged your post here;

    Thank you-Melissa