Lizzie Alcott’s Hillside Diary

I am pleased to share with you the only known existing journal of Elizabeth Alcott.

Disclaimer #1: I cannot guarantee total accuracy as I am not a professional transcriber.  If there is something you want to quote for a paper, please email me through the Contact page, note the page or pages you want, and I will send you photographs of these pages.

Disclaimer #2: I have annotated it with notes and insights (in red) — please keep in mind that these notes are often just my opinion about what I read  (and a few might not make sense to you) — these opinions should not be taken otherwise.

Please use the citation information below if you want to quote this diary. 

Enjoy this rare look at Lizzie Alcott at ages 10 and 11.

 
Alcott, Elizabeth Sewell, A.MS. diary 19 Apr-4 Oct 1846, Amos Bronson Alcott papers, MS Am 1130.9 (24) Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

 

66 thoughts on “Lizzie Alcott’s Hillside Diary

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Susan! It was wonderful to read & now I feel that I’ve been in the woods with violets & autumn leaves & roasted apples. 🙂

    A few thoughts — writing as I read:

    ❀ Any idea what “The White Rose” was that she read April 19 & April 22?
    ❀ I loved that she played “Go to Boston” with Abba. 😉
    ❀ April 23: My guess is “cyphens” is “cyphers.”
    ❀ I love how often they pick flowers. She read Abba Oliver Twist!
    ❀ Marmee went swinging with them!
    ❀ So many violets & pressed flowers — & she takes the time to listen to the birds. I also love how much time they spend in the woods. 🙂
    ❀ Any chance you’ll share May’s 1852 diary? I notice you mentioned it. I’d love to read it — though I understand if you can’t.
    ❀ I love your analysis of Lizzie on June 10.
    ❀ From September 11: Any idea what “Holidays from Home” was? I couldn’t find anything by Google. 🙂
    ❀ From September 27: Any idea why she & Abba suddenly stop attending Miss Foord’s school?
    ❀ I see at the end she had filled this journal. Any idea what happened to the others? Or is this the only one she wrote?

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    1. Did I ask too many questions, Susan? As you know, I dearly love the Alcotts & am interested in whatever there is to know. I found reading this journal yesterday calming & lovely. It’s crazy it was written nearly 200 years ago. She sounds like us! 🙂 I only asked the above because I’m ridiculously interested. Sorry if I overstepped (which I suspect I did as you’ve answered or acknowledged everyone within this thread — accept me. I HAVE NEVER FELT MORE LIKE JO.) 😉

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      1. You my friend could never ask too many questions! I did forget and my apologies. Happy to answer your questions:

        With regards to the White Rose I looked it up too and I couldn’t find it so I don’t know what it was.

        Lizzie really knew her flowers to she knew all the names and she got to look at the parts of a flower under a microscope. Honestly, I think it’s the time of been right and she’d had the correct education, she could have been a botanist or biologist.

        I don’t have any plans right now for transcribing May’s diary because of time. That one is a challenge not because it’s not readable but because of all the spelling errors that you can easily gloss over. That one requires special attention. I’ll write more about it though in the future.

        Regarding my Reflections on June 10th, thank you. I feel it’s the whole point of reading this diary.

        I also tried to find holidays from home but couldn’t find it either.

        She in a bus stopped attending Miss Foord school because Miss Foord left. Remember that she had proposed to Thoreau and you know how that went! 🙂 she probably was too embarrassed to remain. Too bad cuz the children really loved her.

        This is the only existing diary. There are letters that she wrote when she went to the seashore in 1857 and then she kept a short Diary of her doings each day. But other than that we don’t have anything else sadly

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ha ha! And here I’d assumed I was unforgettable. 😛

        Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. x

        I had tried to look up the titles Lizzie mentions & couldn’t locate them either. Too bad. I’d especially love to read “Holidays from Home.” I love reading those old works from another era.

        “I don’t have any plans right now for transcribing May’s diary because of time.” Oh, I see! Totally understandable. I thought you already had it transcribed. x

        Regarding Lizzie as a botanist: she must have really listened to Thoreau during their walks. I wonder if he noticed her interest. (That’s not a bid for further answers. I am thinking rhetorically.)

        Oh, & I didn’t know that about Miss Foord! I just thought she was some random teacher. I didn’t realize she’s part of the Concord story! See, now I’ll need to read a biography on Thoreau. I just found this blog, which you may find interesting. 😉

        Happy researching & writing, Susan! 💐

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reading this was just wonderful! One thing I noticed was that she
    had a very special loving relationship with EACH sister! She certainly spent a lot of time entertaining little May, which was a huge help to Mother and Anna and Louisa, who disliked the responsibility of overseeing a fidgety child, when she wanted to enjoy herself. I was surprised that Lizzie enjoyed learning French like Anna; also, that she didn’t hate math even though it was confounding 😖 at times. From this diary one can get a good idea about the vegetables, nuts and berries and other fruits the family was eating. To me it is worth noting that the girls, especially Lizzie, liked to play in Mother’s room – it must have been particularly cozy.
    Lizzie was Daddy’s girl but even he couldn’t get her to eat and take powders and pellets and put on some weight during her decline.
    Not only did Lizzie play the sick lady, she did write on several occasions that she was unwell and didn’t attend school then. Is this when her stomach problems came to light?
    If I remember correctly, it was Louisa who didn’t like it when Miss Foord was staying with the Alcotts.
    It’s amazing how these few short journal entries can give us so much rumination! And Lizzie doesn’t sound like a painfully shy girl. I wonder if Louisa invented that to be a fault for her flawless sister?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You could be right about May Elizabeth, I know that when Lizzie was sent to live with Hannah Robie, (I guess for economic reasons), how distraught little Abby May was that Lizzie was taken away from her, even though she had her 2 older sisters and her mother still with her, she felt that there was nothing left in the house for her to feel good about.
      Also, I personally don’t feel that Lizzie was playing with Abby May just as an accomodation to her mother & her sisters.
      I really believe that was just Lizzie being Lizzie, a sweet, kind, loving sister.
      Thanks for listening Elizabeth.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing! I loved finding out more about their simple lifestyle (compared to the fast-paced world of today!) and the background of the Alcotts and their relationships with one another. It’s cool to see names like Emerson casually written down as a family friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. re Spelling & Defining Lesson Friday(4) April-Update?hard-workingkindhumblemeeksweetsisterlydevotedaffectionatelovingtotally adorableLizzie

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  5. For all Little Women Fans: on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 @ 10:10 A.M. Eastern Time, the “Movies” Channel will be running the 1933 Version of Little Women starring Katherine Hepburn.

    Thanks Everybody!

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  6. They will also be showing the 1933 Little Women Movie on the “Movies” channel on Monday, November 30th at
    2:50 P.M.-Eastern Time.

    Best Regards

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  7. Re: Special Relationship w. all 3 sisters: I agree, for in Susan’s words, May’s reaction at the time of Lizzie’s death was
    “a grief too great for words”, & in Anna’s loving tribute in her journal. she “couldn’t bear never again seeing her kind
    sweet voice, or never again hearing her “gentle voice, never raised in anger against any living soul”, and of course
    Louisa, not only in the things she said in her journal, and that was amazing, but of course all through “Little Women”,
    Louisa is throwing bouquets and hugs and blowing kisses at her dear departed sister, Elizabeth, (the only sister
    in Little Women who kept her real name.) so that no one who read that book would have any doubt about
    the kind of sister, the kind of family member, the kind of human being that Elizabeth was.
    I don’t know in most families if all siblings are even accepted by one and other, and here you have one sister
    that was so passionately beloved and treasured, and then grieved over by all 3 of her sisters.

    Truly Amazing!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your empathy Susan. I agree with you totally!!

        Even the squabbles between Lou&May (Jo&Amy) the firebrands of the family seem to have gotten settled with time.

        I truly believe that just like Amy, as May grew older she got better & better, May was much younger compared to her sisters than Amy in “LW” She was such a young child living in economically challenged conditions; and then to have her dearest companion Lizzie removed from her at such a young age, must have been a very difficult & heart-breaking way to start her life. so I think she should get a little pass for that.

        However I think that with the passage of time the Sisterly Bonds grew stronger and stronger.
        For in the end, didn’t May name her child Lu-Lu after Louisa?
        I hope you don’t think this is too trite, but to paraphrase from what Laurie told his tutor in one of the earliest chapters of “Little Women” regarding the March sisters, I believe also that the Alcott’s were
        ” regularly splendid girls.”
        I hope this wasn’t too convoluted to understand, Susan.
        Thanks again for your heartfelt reply to my previous comment.

        Best Regards-Alex

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      2. May did get better, you are right. She was definitely a late bloomer, not really figuring out what to do with her life in a serious fashion until her late 20s. I see her as kind of lost at times (losing herself in society) yet every now and then in her diary she would admit to her faults and admit to feeling low. But boy, when she got back on track, she went so far! And did a lot of people lots of good.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. After a couple of days my curiousity is piqued Susan. What exactly did May do when she “got back on track and went so far”?; and how did it help so many people?
        Best Regards-Alex

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      4. Hi Alex – I think Louisa and Europe is what got May back on track, and May worked hard to make it easier for future females trying to become artists while she bettered her own skills.

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      5. She started the Concord Art Society (I think that’s the name) and taught many local artists. She was a mentor to David Chester French who scultped Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial (she gave him some of her tools when he was just starting out). She taught art in Boston too. Over in Europe she wrote a manual on how to study art cheaply with lots of helpful and practical advice. She enjoyed mentoring other artists because she remembered how hard it was to get proper instruction. And of course she became a fine painter, having two of her works displayed at the Paris Salon.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. Dear Susan:
        Thank you so much!! So amazing about May, that in addition to her wonderful accomplishments– she possessed the same unselfish, generous traits that her sisters had: Louisa, with how she always used her earnings to support
        her family (although I don’t know any exact details about Anna, but I believe with how much Louisa loved her,
        I’m sure she was not a selfish person), and OF COURSE, Lizzie.
        Thanks again for the information Susan!! It’s so nice to know that the real-life prototypes of the people
        we admired in “Little Women” were just as admirable and praiseworthy!!
        Best Regards-Alex

        Liked by 1 person

  8. May was so productive that I had a hard time imagining that she was ever off track. She was young and enjoyed parties and dances and Louisa enjoyed dressing her like she used to dress her dolls. She hit snags with her career but always overcame them as help was always available to her just for the asking. And she was always ready to help another struggling student.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Elizaberh!! I am not sure exactly what Susan meant by getting “off track”, but it could be that even though big Sisters Louisa & Anna did not want May to be depressed by having a Childhood with not enough pretty things and happy times and mainly work like they were forced to do to support their family so Louisa (I don’t know exactly about Anna) did like to
    give little May pretty things. But where she may (& I believe Susan would know much more than me) go off track was
    that May could have gotten overly concerned with her looks & become too vain. I remember in “Little Women”, Marmee had to talk to Amy about being conceited in the “Amy’s Valley of Humiliation” Chapter.
    In “Little Women” anyway Amy seemed to get back on track by her admiration of Beth’s unselfishness and
    wanting to be more like Beth.
    Thanks Elizabeth-Best Regards-Alex

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    1. Oh yes Alex, you are so right! I think though that by “off track” Susan meant the partying as well, and her very busy life affected her digestion. If she wasn’t attending to her art, going to classes, teaching, and going to dances, then she had to help around the house which wasn’t easy work. Also she played the “piano” for company which was frequent. Then those little romances probably stirred the pot. Not so easy being almost 30 in those days with all different things enticing her and not sure which way to turn. Not comfortable being a woman with male art teachers.
      Anna and Louisa fawned over May together but Louisa’s earnings had different purposes than Anna’s. Anna gave most of her salary to the household and barely had enough left over to clothe herself as a proper teacher.
      Always good to hear from you, Alex!

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      1. All true – by going off track I meant that she placed more of a priority on socializing than on purposeful work with her art. Here and there she took instruction and created things but she lacked focus. Finally in her latter 20s (and thanks to Louisa’s generous patronage), May was able to gain that focus. She took her teaching more seriously and appreciated the rhythm it gave to her daily life.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. To what purposes did Louisa spend her money Elizabeth? I had thought that she spent a lot of her money in support of her family. Am I mistaken??
    Re May: in addition to her other challenges, as Susan so well put it she grieved over Lizzie “with a grief too great for words”., And I wonder if (just like in “Little Women”) the remembrance of her gentle unselfish sister, helped her to re-focus on her own life. and the direction she wanted it to go in.
    I don’t know how much Lizzie helped her, Elizabeth. Susan would probably know better.
    I’m just wondering.
    Best Regards-Alex

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  11. I think all three became somewhat Lizzie-fied after Lizzie’s passing. But perhaps the greatest change was in May, the way she took over the piano playing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To Elizabeth or Susan or anyone on this website: PBS ran a program on Louisa Alcott’s life today. Wondering if anyone else saw it, & if so, how accurate it was & how good a job it did on describing the essence of her life & her relationships with her parentsand her sisters. Wishing everyone a happy, healthy New Year. Best Regards-Alex

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I phrased my statement about the PBS program on Louisa Alcott wrong.
      What I meant to say was I WONDERED how accurate it was, & DID it do a good accurate job
      of portraying Louisa’s life & her family’s life?
      I wondered if anyone on this website saw it & would care to comment?

      Thank you.

      A HAPPY, HEALTHY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL.

      BEST REGARDS. ALEX

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Susan !
    Overall, I did like the PBS Program very much and I got some new information that I never knew before.
    But (& I hope this won’t cause a rift between us Susan) my one gripe with it was that (anytime anyone does or says
    anything to injure any of the Alcott sisters or Marmee, my blood boils!) I thought they showed so much of Bronson talking like you’d think he was such a great father, but I thought they never properly took him to task for his laxity in providing for his family; and I wanted to yell at the screen, “Why don’t you support your family you bum!”

    Hope you are feeling well Susan, and though it’s only a little after New Year, I can’t wait to hear what
    new progress you are making on your “Lizzie” book.

    All my Very Best Regards!!

    Alex

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  13. Hi Susan–Guess what they just re-ran the P.B.S. bio of Louisa’s life, & especially after your tribute I watched it even
    more closely, & you know what, it was much better than I originally thought. I did see that in later life, Louisa &
    Bronson became very close, so perhaps I was wrong to criticize him so harshly for failing to provide for his family.???
    Anyway thank you for listening Susan.

    Best Regards!!!–Alex

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    1. Bronson is a man of extremes – real fatal flaws in not supporting his family and just being so tone deaf in that regard. Yet, he also gave his daughters extraordinary freedom in self-expression and two of them (Louisa and May) realized their potential and had successful careers. He and Abba instilled wonderful values in their daughters.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, Susan, & let’s not forget about the 2 Alcott daughters who did NOT have careers: Lizzie and Anna.
        I owe you a huge thank you Susan for showing me that lovely memorial tribute to Lizzie that Anna wrote
        in her diary on the 3rd anniversary of Lizzie’s death. It was such a wonderful & succinct memorial of her sister that I
        took a picture of it, as sometimes when you go to look up things on the internet they seem to disappear,
        and this way I knew I’d always have it to look at.
        But also, in the same diary notation her tender concern that May knew that she & Louisa were proud of her
        and wanted her to have some happiness & not suffer the griefs that made Louisa & her “old so young”.
        And also in the same diary notation, sending her May’s letter to her parents that they not be over-vexed
        by the anniversary of Lizzie’s death. And also (implied) her empathy for Louisa.
        I really think that Anna was almost as sweet as Lizzie.
        I heartily agree with you that the Alcott daughters DID really have wonderful virtues.
        Best Regards Susan.–Alex

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  14. Hi Alex! I have often felt as you do and went as far as calling Bronson an “old fart” because he outlived everyone in the family! But if he would be alive nowadays, he’d have a psychiatric diagnosis and be living on disability benefits.

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  15. It is so true, Alex, that Anna was very Lizzie-like, and is an example of what Lizzie would have been if her health hadn’t been such a problem. Remember that Marmee wanted her to start at the Normal School but somehow that never happened. Someone pointed out that Lizzie was always overlooked.
    Anna was too, in that she never got the credit she deserved for all she did for the family. Louisa didn’t play her up enough in her sequels: that’s my opinion.

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    1. Hi Elizabeth!!
      Yes, I always thought that Louisa & Amy were the 2 firebrands of the family & Anna & Lizzie were the 2 doves;
      but I always felt that as they grew & matured, they bonded more & more, & it’s just such a shame that health
      problems plagued all of them, (except maybe May until her childbirth sickness).
      & I thought all 4 sisters displayed an exceptional amount of integrity in working to support & maintain their family,
      not only financially but spiritually.

      Best Regards–Alex

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      1. Agreed. Actually, May had her health issues too, mostly digestive. Nothing serious. She wrote of having influenza in 1852 and in other writings from 1858-9 and 1862-63, she complained of digestive troubles and low spirits.

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    2. One big difference between Anna and Lizzie was in their ability to express themselves. Anna was an open book – she and her father shared many confidences through their letters. She is the best source by far for information on the family – I’ve dubbed her the family secretary. 🙂 Lizzie did write letters but never shared her inner self with anyone but her mother and swore her mother to secrecy. Abba said that Lizzie had a far deeper inner life than any of them knew. Very tantalizing!

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      1. I’d love to see what your researches for your “Lizzie book” can reveal about Lizzie’s inner life Susan.
        Incidentally, I’m surprised to see that Louisa wasn’t also a good source of family information??
        Best Regards!!-Alex

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Notice that when May noted having low spirits, it was around and after the time that Lizzie died, and also when Louisa went to war and came home in such an awful condition.

    By the way, let’s give Bronson credit for going and bringing Louisa home. That couldn’t have been much fun.

    I think somewhere else I read that Anna was the family secretary. As to her being an open book: in Little Women Louisa called Meg “a transparent little person.”

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Interesting-Susan & Elizabeth: I remember “Little Women” stated that Beth lived in a happy little world
    of her own, only venturing out to meet those she trusted and loved. Hopefully, Susan, your researches for your
    “Lizzie book” will reveal more of the inner Lizzie. I personally thought that even though her sisters adored her,
    that if she received any harsh or bullying or disappointing comments from outsiders, maybe classmates
    or people that she wanted to be friends with, it might have caused her to retreat into her little world of
    her cats & her dolls until her equilibrium had been restored. (Maybe through kind words from one of
    her sisters or Marmee.)
    Also in Little Women, Jo was Beth’s confidant, but apparently Lizzie’s was Marmee.
    Can’t wait to see what your researches will reveal.

    Re Bronson: Yes Elizabeth, and probably also due to his contacts with Thoreau, Emerson, Longfellow
    and others of their ilk, Louisa & Anna may have had access to a more genteel class of people when
    looking for work, (governessing, teaching, sewing, et al. That didn’t mean they paid real high salaries
    or even being easy do deal with, but at least it may have avoiding having to deal with riff-raff.)

    At least that’s my take on those 2 situations, for what it’s worth.

    All my Very Best Regards-Susan & Elizabeth.
    Alex

    Liked by 1 person

  18. How are you feeling, Susan? Is the first chapter all done?
    Alex, I got the impression that Louisa was much more concerned with privacy and squelching gossip than being a great source of info on the family. Louisa was good for burning journals and ducking company. Anna was much more outgoing and as forthcoming as could be without being too indiscriminate.

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    1. THANK YOU ELIZABETH!! THAT’S A VERY INTERESTING INSIGHT. YOU’RE PROBABLY RIGHT.
      I AM GRATEFUL FOR WHATEVER JOURNALS LOUISA DID NOT BURN. BUT I CAN UNDERSTAND
      LOUISA’S FEELINGS. PEOPLE CAN BE VERY CRUEL SOMETIMES, IF YOU GIVE THEM THE SLIGHTEST BIT
      THAT CAN BE MISINTERPRETED, THEY WILL LEAP TO SOMETIMES VERY HURTFUL CONCLUSIONS, WHETHER TRUE OR NOT. AND I’M SURE SHE DIDN’T WANT AMY’S OR ANNA’S CHILDREN TO BE HARMED
      BY MALICIOUS GOSSIP, & BEYOND THAT, SHE LOVED HER SISTERS & HER PARENTS (EVEN BRONSON)
      SO I CAN SEE WHY SHE DID WHAT SHE DID.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Dear Elizabeth or Susan:
    The reason I wrote what I did is because on another program I watched on LMA, Louisa was quoted as saying
    (approximately), ” I must have a man’s soul trapped in a woman’s body because I have been attracted to so
    many pretty girls, but never really been attracted to men.”
    And, I believe in Ms. La Plante’s book she states that Bronson had an affair (affairs?) and his wandering eye
    troubled Louisa.
    Those things could have caused a scandal in the 1950’s (particularly Louisa’s “liking” girls, let alone in the
    1850’s, and I don’t think LMA would have wanted any touch of that scandal to affect or trouble any of her family.
    especially May’s or Anna’s children who were so young and could have been severely traumatized.
    By the way, I am anxious to know Susan, how you are progressing with your Lizzie book (books?) both
    the bio. & your fictionalized version. Also have you found out anything further about the “tantalizing” life
    Lizzie told to her mother, but swore her to secrecy.
    In passing, I would just like to add how much I love your website, which you were nice enough to invite me to.
    It’s the first thing I look up in my computer when I wake, and the last thing I look at before I go to bed.
    All my Very Best Regards-Susan and Elizabeth.–Alex

    I

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    1. Dear Alex, along with Susan’s posts regarding Louisa’s orientation, the articles about how women related to one another as well as “Boston Marriages” are extremely interesting! I too am eager to preorder Susan’s books on Lizzie.🕯🙏💛

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      1. How can we do that?? I really loved Susan’s statement about how passionate she was (along with Louisa) about Lizzie/Beth, & how she wanted to do both a bio. of Lizzie, as well as a fictional approach. I just LOVED her
        little vignette about Louy/Lizzie!!!
        Best Regards Elizabeth, and you too Susan, if you’re reading this.—Alex

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      2. Hi Alex – Susan probably is reading this. She will let us know when we can pre-order on Amazon. The book has to be far enough along for her to be able to get a publishing date etc.

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