The Shrouding Woman [NOOK Book]


The moving story of a young girl's struggle to face her mother's death.

"She traveled to our small white house near the Iowa border on a buckboard, her green bag caked with the dusty road . . . I knew that she was called "the Shrouding Woman" because I'd heard Papa use those words to describe her. I didn't know what it meant but I knew it had something to do with death."

It was once common practice for small towns to have a shrouding woman to ...

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The Shrouding Woman

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The moving story of a young girl's struggle to face her mother's death.

"She traveled to our small white house near the Iowa border on a buckboard, her green bag caked with the dusty road . . . I knew that she was called "the Shrouding Woman" because I'd heard Papa use those words to describe her. I didn't know what it meant but I knew it had something to do with death."

It was once common practice for small towns to have a shrouding woman to help put their dead to rest. Still, when eleven-year-old Evie's Aunt Flo-herself a shrouding woman-comes to town, Evie knows little of a shrouding woman's ways and wants nothing to do with this aunt of hers, especially after her own mother's recent death. But as this mysterious woman slowly makes her way into Evie's life, her strong and sensitive presence brings far more than signs of death to a grieving girl's home.

Set in the mid-1800s, this beautifully written story, centered on the little-known practice of shrouding, touches on death and healing with sensitivity and quiet dignity.

When her Aunt Flo comes to help care for eleven-year-old Evie and her younger sister after their mother's death, Evie wants nothing to do with her and she is especially uncomfortable with her aunt's calling of helping prepare bodies for burial.

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Editorial Reviews

Growing up on the Minnesota frontier in the mid-1800s, eleven-year-old Elvie resents her Aunt Flo, who as Elvie sees it, is trying to take the place of her mother who died in early spring. Elvie's sister Mae, merely five years old, is at ease showing Flo affection, and their father is clearly comforted by the presence of his older sister. Elvie is unkind to Flo, and although she appreciates that her aunt brings good things into the family, she resents that it is not she who can ease her father's grieving. Flo, a shrouding woman, has the skills for preparing a body for burial. Evie is repulsed by the thought of what Flo is called upon to do, and she is surprised at the gratitude other families feel for Flo and her services. When her father implies and Flo explains that this skill is often passed down through generations, she worries that Flo will expect Evie to take up the same calling. Ellsworth tells the story clearly, and the focus of shrouding brings a unique element into what otherwise might be just another house-on-the-prairie tale. Evie moves from the tragedy of her mother's death to a more mature understanding that death and the rituals surrounding it are a part of life. 2002, Henry Holt, 160p,
— Lynne Hawkins
Children's Literature
The death of her mother has left eleven-year-old Evie lonely and longing for her mother's gentle touch. Pa sends for his sister, Aunt Flo, to care for Evie and her little sister Mae. Tall and angular, Aunt Flo is the antithesis of Mama and to make matters worse, she is a shrouding woman, the one who prepares the body for burial. Evie shuns her aunt, for in her opinion, "nothing good ever came from death and nothing good could come from a woman who dealt in death." The time-honored custom of laying the body for burial is usually passed down through the women in the family and Evie fears it will be expected of her to learn the practice. Underneath her bed Aunt Flo keeps a brown box that holds her "tools of the trade," and Evie is both intrigued by and fearful of it. When, by necessity, she must assist her aunt in preparing the body of a young woman who has died in childbirth, Evie sees a softer side of Aunt Flo and gains a respect for the dignity and value of her work. Gradually Evie warms to her aunt, even to the point of allowing her to work in Mama's garden. Rich with detail of prairie life in the mid 1800s, this is a warm and uplifting story of one girl's coming of age. Ellsworth tackles the difficult subject of death with a sensitivity that will help young readers understand it as a part of the circle of life. Stubborn and rebellious Evie is no match for the quiet, non-judgmental but purposeful Aunt Flo. This is a magnificent debut from an author who writes with a tender heart. 2002, Henry Holt,
— Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-An evocative novel set in Crooked Creek Valley in southeastern Minnesota shortly after the Civil War. Eleven-year-old Evie is despondent over her mother's recent death and is upset that her younger sister, Mae, has so easily accepted their Aunt Flo as a caregiver. Tall, big boned, speaking with a heavy German accent, the woman seems the opposite of Evie's beloved mother. Worse, Aunt Flo is a "shrouding woman," someone who "lays out" the dead. Hearing that it has been traditional within her father's family for the women to follow this calling frightens Evie, who wants nothing to do with death. Set upon a path of quiet rebellion, she resists her aunt's efforts to care for her. An orphaned fox found on the plains and a death in a pioneering family wagoning their way west cause Evie to reevaluate her thinking. The details of daily life have been well researched and lovingly worked into a smooth narrative flow. Reinforced by the natural cycle of the sometimes stark, often demanding, but always somehow beautiful seasons of the northern prairie, Ellsworth's message is that both birth and death are necessary and those who choose to ease these things are blessings. Reminiscent in tone and setting of Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall (HarperCollins, 1985), The Shrouding Woman gently breaks new ground for children in removing some of the mystery from what some view as our last remaining obscenity, death. An important offering from a very talented newcomer.-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429932462
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 6/12/2007
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Age range: 9 - 14 Years
  • File size: 316 KB

Meet the Author

Loretta Ellsworth has had short fiction published in several literary journals. The Shrouding Woman is her first novel for young readers. She lives in Lakeville, Minnesota.
Loretta Ellsworth is the author of the acclaimed middle-grade novel The Shrouding Woman. A former school teacher and mother of four grown children, Ms. Ellsworth lives in Lakeville, Minnesota.
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Read an Excerpt

The Shrouding Woman
Papa's SisterI was eleven years old when she came to live with us. My little sister, Mae, was five. She came from the western part of Minnesota, where only the hearty survived the summer's prairie fires and the winter's bitter cold. She traveled to our small white house on a buckboard, her green bag caked with the dusty road. Her dark hair was tucked under a round hat with a short brim, and a fine netting covered her face. Although she was Papa's sister, I'd never met herbefore. All I knew about her was from a charcoal drawing of her and Papa when they were children, both with light hair and frowns upon their faces. I remembered that she was called "the Shrouding Woman" because Papa had used those words to describe her. I didn't know what it meant, but I figured it had something to do with dying. I had just lost Mama, and I didn't want to hear anything more about death, so I took Mae and hid under the front porch, peeking out through the slits in the boards between two mulberry bushes.We heard Papa run outside; the large wooden door creaked, then slammed shut; his heavy boots shuffled on the porch above us. He helped her down from the buckboard. She clutched a Bible in one hand, and her bag was strapped over her arm.She had the same wide nose and square shoulders as my father, but I couldn't see her eyes under the black netting. She was a tall woman, almost as tall as Papa. She gave Papa a hug and said something about what a fine woman my mama was and how shewished she'd been here to help. Papa just nodded as he carried her green bag up to the house."Evie and Mae, get out here," Papa called. "Come meet your aunt Flo." Mae started to move, but I shushed her still.Mae darted a nervous glance at me. She didn't want to get a whipping, even though Papa was always soft on her."Don't know where they wandered off to. I guess they'll be in later." Then we heard Papa take Aunt Flo into the house.I squeezed a fistful of dirt between my fingers. "Mama would have known we were under the porch," I said to Mae as I looked around at the piles of rocks we'd gathered to protect us against spiders.We sat for a long time. Mae drew pictures in the dirt with a long stick, her straggly blond hair mingling with the black earth as she bent over and hummed quietly to herself. I sat in the cool darkness, watching the hot winds blow across the plains, whipping the long grass into a graceful bend.I remembered what Mama had told me shortly before she died, her pale lips struggling with the words as I wiped her forehead. "Love your aunt Flo and make her feel welcome, Evie. She is going to take care of you and Mae for me."The image of her lingering sickness was still fresh in my mind. Now as I sat under the porch, I thought about Mama and I wondered how I would ever live with a shrouding woman.Text copyright © 2002 by Loretta Ellsworth. All rights reserved.
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Customer Reviews

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( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2005

    best book!

    This book is very interesting! Ive never heard of a Shrouding Woman before and this book kept me reading from page one! I could not put the book down which is very odd because I am not a huge reader. I think everybody should own this book and I look forward to this authors next book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2002


    This book is a great story and it also gives you interesting facts. It is a touching story about a girl who has to change her whole life because her mother dies. Loretta Elsworth did a great job with the writing and the research. You must read this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2002

    Good book for adults and young adults

    I read this book 3 times and it was still very interesting and informative. Research done by author on this custom was very good. Look forward to reading her next book.

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