American Girl Publishing
Reprinted by Skyview Books
Digital Versions by Open Road Media

whistler in the dark, american girl mysteries


Agatha Award Nominee for Best Children’s/Young Adult Mystery
— Malice Domestic

WILLA Award Finalist for Best Children’s/Young Adult Book
— Women Writing the West

"Mother!" Emma called. Holding her painting carefully, she used one hip to shut the front door behind her. Madame Duchene's praise rang in her ears: "For a girl not yet thirteen, Miss Henderson, you show remarkable promise." Emma could hardly wait to show Mother...


Thus begins multiple mystery awards nominated Whistler In The Dark. This is Kathleen's second of twenty books written for American Girl.

This story is written for readers age 10 to adult who enjoy Wild West era children's historical fiction—without sex, gore, or explicit violence.

Story Description

It’s 1867. Twelve-year-old Emma Henderson is mortified when Mother takes to wearing a Reform Dress—hideous bloomers! 

Worse, Mother has accepted a newspaper job in wild, far-off Colorado Territory.

But even Emma can’t imagine just how badly things will go in Twin Pines. From the moment she and Mother step off the stagecoach, it’s clear that someone doesn’t want them there.

This book includes a richly illustrated "Peak Into The Past" essay, featuring historical details about the Dress Reform Movement, women taking on non-traditional jobs outside of the home, White settlement of Colorado, and women who ran frontier newspapers there. 

Whistler was originally released as a 165-page book in softcover and hardcover formats. It is now available in multiple ebook versions. 

What Others Are Saying


Image of the Women Writing he West logo.  Women Writing The West
WILLA Literary Awards Competition
Judge's Comments

"A page-turner for young and old. The intrigue of the mystery, the background of the mining town, and the lessons on the Women's Dress Reform Movement are woven together to keep the readers' interest. Teaches as well as captivates the reader."

  Shepard Express (Milwaukee, WI)

"...exciting storyline, historical accuracy, beautiful illustrations and a "Peek into the Past" section at the end of the book that provides in-depth and entertaining context. Adults interested in suffragists and 19th-century women newspaper editors will want to borrow this book from their daughters."

About The Author

Bestselling author Kathleen Ernst writes award-winning mysteries, historical fiction, and non-fiction for adults and young readers.

Her work has earned numerous honors, including two lifetime writing achievement awards, an Emmy for educational television, and an Edgar Allan Poe and multiple Agatha Christie mystery award nominations.

To date nearly 1.8 million audio, ebook, and print copies of Kathleen's thirty-eight published books have been purchased. more>>

Related Blog Posts

Enjoy the author's insights about the story, characters, and settings.

Whistler In The Dark: The Stories Behind The Story

Engraving of Amelia Bloomer. When I attended interpreter training at Old World Wisconsin in the spring of 1982, the Curator of Textiles showed us a photograph of a Wisconsin woman wearing trousers beneath a knee-length skirt. The image shows a woman... more>>

Available From

Whistler in the Dark is available in paperback, library binding, and ebook formats fom the vendors listed below.

NOTE: you can also buy 'as new' original American Girl softcover and hardcover copies directly from me, the author, signed and personalized as per your request. Request a quote by clicking HERE.

Buy from Indiebound Books PAPERBACK
Buy from Amazon.com KINDLE eBOOK
Apple iTunes store logo. iBOOKS eBOOK
Kobo logo. KOBO eBOOK
Buy from Barnes & Noble NOOK eBOOK
Google Play logo. GOOGLE PLAY eBOOK

Author's Note

The first time I saw a photograph showing a Civil War-era woman during wearing the Reform Dress (often called the Bloomer Dress), I knew I wanted to write a story about it. Imagine women and girls in the 1800s who had to work hard in factories or farmfields—wearing long skirts and petticoats! Not only was it uncomfortable, it was sometimes dangerous as well.


Wearing trousers was a difficult choice, though. For this book, I wanted to create sympathetic, likeable characters who had different opinions. The main character, Emma, is embarrassed when her mother makes her a Reform Dress. After you finish reading, think about how you would have felt if you’d lived in Emma’s time. What choices would you have made? 

Book Goodies

Image of partial book cover of "Whistler In The Dark" written by author Kathleen Ernst, published by American Girl. PREVIEW
Get a sneak peak
inside this book 
books, educator TEACHER'S GUIDE
For teachers and

Maggie By My Side

In Whistler In The Dark a mysterious person repeatedly whistles  "Maggie By My Side," a then popular song by American songwriter Stephen Foster. "Maggie" was the favorite tune of Emma's father, who had been killed two years earlier during the closing days of the Civil War. Listen to a recording of this music while watching a series of original photos of American Civil War sailors.  PLAY.

Maggie By My Side - Stephen Foster - 1854

Emma's World

This illustration by artist Jean-Paul Tibbles shows the frontier town of Twin Pines in the Colorado Territory. The year is 1867.  ENLARGE

Emma's World - Twin Pines - Colorado Territory - 1867