Dear Children:

Thank you for helping me with this little project!

Below is a story I wrote for children just like you. Even though some of the things it talks about has to do with what I believe in, I am hoping that the story will be interesting to you no matter what you believe yourself.
Please time yourself on how long it takes you to read. Do not rush, just read at the normal pace that you would- in your head or out loud, whatever you like. Or, you can read it in sections and time each section and add it all together at the end.

After I have some feedback from you and my other guinea pig bookworm children, I will edit the story to try and make it as good as possible for as many different children as possible. Then, when the story becomes a real book, it will have lots of pictures, drawn by kids just like yourself. Your name will also be printed inside the book as someone who helped me to make this happen. How cool!

After the story on this same page is a little quiz I would like you to fill out. Try to do this all on your own- but if you need help from your family, that is okay too!

I’m very excited about this and hope you enjoy it!

Your new (or maybe old!) friend,
Annette

Here is the story. It is called ‘Sussi’s Solstice’, and it is about lots of things that I think are important for lots of people. Life isn’t always easy! And it is okay to not always feel okay.
Also, my Mother is from Sweden, so I have set the story there because it is a very special place for me. I have included a few pictures just to make reading it a bit easier for your little eyes on the screen. Here goes! Get that stopwatch started!:


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CHAPTER ONE:

One layer, two layers, three layers, four. Sussi felt like a marshmallow as Mama reached into her sleeve, clasped onto her little hand, and pulled it through one last time. Then, with a fluffy scarf wrapped snugly around her neck and a thick knitted beanie squeezed over her head, there was no way the sharp, winter’s air could creep it’s way into this little outfit of hers- no way! Mama was proud of herself. Finally, after too many dark, seemingly endless winters up in Täfteå, she’d solved the mystery of how to keep her little girl’s lips from turning blue and to stop her teeth from chattering on the walk to school.

Swinging the door open no more than just a Sussi-width, Mama called out a sing-songy ‘Remember who you aa-are!’‘- just the way she did every single school day since the very first. ‘I am a child of God!’, Sussi announced proudly in return. Then, with a gentle push on the back of her not-SO-little-anymore marshmallow-like 7-year old, Mama stepped back inside and closed the door in a hurry- before all the heat in the house could escape.

Like every other day, Sussi jumped right off the ledge of the porch instead of taking the two stairs, landing with a dull *thud* on the snow, and then waddled on her way.

With flashlight in mitten-clad hand, she lit up the snow-covered path bright white as she went. Not that darkness scared her or anything- in fact, darkness didn’t seem to scare any of her friends from school like it did the kids in all the books they read in class- it was just a part of life up where they lived. You see, in the dead of winter, the sun in Täfteå seemed to sleep all day long, and if it did wake up, it would wake only for just a little bit, and only barely at that.

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‘The winter sun is just like Niklas ever since he came home!’, concluded Sussi to herself. Yes. Even though she loved her brother dearly, she knew he was, well... ‘not himself at the moment’. At least that’s what she’d heard Mama say on the phone to Aunt Inga a few times. Sleeping all the time and never wanting to come downstairs and play with her or help with her homework-- it was like he was a hedgehog in the winter time, hiding from the world even though everyone still wanted to see him. She missed having hedgehogs around. And she missed having Niklas around too. The thought sent her heart sinking into the snow right alongside her boots.

CHAPTER TWO:

Niklas sat up in his bed, his red hair sitting messily on his head. The bright moonlight had woken him up, fooling him into thinking that it was the Australian summer sun that had been there to greet him every single morning for the past year, accompanying his 6.30am alarm.

Realising that he was wrong, that his days introducing himself as Elder Erlandsson were a thing of the past, he lay back down, pulled the blanket over his head, and let out a huge sigh. Winter seemed to go for-e-ver in Täfteå, even longer than before he went on a mission. And  though it was nice to be home in time for Christmas and- if he was lucky- time to see the northern lights, all this sudden darkness seemed to eat away at his happiness- or what little of it seemed to be left anyway- one big bite at a time.

No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t seem to do anything else other than sleep, or just lie still in his bed, thoughts and feelings swirling around in his head. Oh, and conveniently wander downstairs when the smell of fresh cinnamon scrolls or pancakes or rhubarb cake or saffron buns or, or... wafted under his door. Niklas sighed again. Oh, baked goods. Glorious, glorious, baked goods. Niklas loved how much his mother loved to bake. Oh, and he’d definitely jump out his window in nothing but his pajamas and run through the snow barefoot to see the northern lights from the field by their home if he had to-- but those seemed to be the only exceptions.

CHAPTER THREE:

The school day came to a close, the light going from faint to non-existent. Pulling out her flashlight, Sussi concluded that today was the day!- today she’d find a hedgehog on her way home from school!

Full of anticipation, the wildly enthusiastic side of Sussi was back. She’d had no success that morning, but her flickering flame of hope had reignited once again- this time brighter than ever before. A smile crept across her face at the thought and her tummy started to bubble over with excitement. You see, this whole ordeal had begun when Sussi’s teacher had told her in class last week that hedgehogs usually need to move their nesting site one time during the winter. And that if one was lucky, they’d see the little spikey creatures out and about. Well, obviously, ever since then, Sussi had taken the long way home, flashlight lighting her way, searching for the creatures she loved so dearly during the summertime.

She missed her spikey friends- so much that sometimes it made her so unbelievably and absolutely incredibly sad that she’d lay flat on her back on the fluffy rug under the kitchen table in the living room, arms stretched out wide in sorrow- staring blankly at the underside of it. And sometimes, it even made her grumpy! She’d keep her snow boots on when coming inside- much to Mama’s dismay- and stomp, stomp, stomp her way up the stairs, and then when she reached the top she’d put both her feet together and jump, jump, jump! as hard as she could, hands clenched into angry fists, face scowling with fury. Mama would kindly but firmly ask her to stop, and Sussi would shout back ‘NO!’, before running into her bedroom, slamming the door, and bursting into tears. That Sussi really, truly felt things- all things. Sometimes this was a terrible thing. And sometimes it was absolutely wonderful.

CHAPTER FOUR:

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This time as Niklas sat up in his bed, it wasn’t the moonlight that had fooled him. It was something else. He knew he was back in Sweden and he knew it was still winter and it was still dark and he still felt like he was missing something inside of him- that same part that disappeared at a time he had expected his light and his joy to only grow. An unexpected turn of events it was, coming home from his mission halfway through it, something he and nobody else had expected.

What had woken him up was a soft, calm, peaceful feeling that had settled over him, gently suggesting that he pull himself out of bed and say a little prayer. It had been a couple days since his last one. So, after pretending he didn’t hear that little prompting twice over as it woke him, he finally gave in and decided to push off his covers, kneel by his bedside, and speak to his Heavenly Father once more. Slowly but surely, as his freckle-covered arms were folded and his eyes were closed, Niklas felt it- he felt loved and he felt heard. He felt a little bit of warmth and sunshine calm him- just like the Australian summer sun had given him a kiss from the other side of the world. Just a little bit, but it was  just enough.

He asked Heavenly Father if he could help him to feel good like he does when there’s sunshine, like he did at the start of his mission in the land down under, to help him want to do things- to help his little sister Sussi with her homework and to sneak biscuits from the kitchen to crush and feed to the little hedgehogs she always seemed to find- like he had in summertimes gone by. His 11 years longer on the earth had granted him 10 years worth of height more than her, and he could reach the very top shelf of the cupboard where the biscuits belonged. And although he knew hedgehogs slept the whole winter long, that wasn’t the point. He just missed helping. And being helpful. And having something to do, somewhere to be.. And with that thought in his mind and that request sent up to heaven, he whispered ‘Amen’ to himself.

Then, with a tiny sliver of newfound energy and assurance, he stood up, pushed his feet into his favourite slippers, opened his bedroom door, and followed the scent of cinnamon buns as it wafted up the stairwell. ‘Well, that’s convenient’, Niklas thought to himself. Right on time for afternoon tea.

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CHAPTER FIVE:

With slumped shoulders and a deep sense of defeat, Sussi trotted downheartedly up to the red, wooden door of her family’s pointed home. The snow turned from bright white to a mass of darkness as she clicked the black button on

the side of her flashlight, turning it off, before putting it back into her backpack.

Maybe next time, she thought to herself. Her flame of hope had died out almost completely. Even though she’d taken an even *longer* route home than usual, her afternoon hedgehog-hunt had seen no success. Five whole to-and-from school walks and no hedgehogs to be found... anywhere! Can you believe it? Sussi certainly didn’t want to. She felt that bubbling feeling inside her tummy again, but this time it wasn’t bubbles of excitement… it wasn’t even bubbles of anger. It was bubbles of sadness.

CHAPTER SIX:

‘Niklas, you’re awake!’, Mama exclaimed as Niklas appeared on the landing at the top of the stairs. ‘And right on time for afternoon tea.’ She laughed out loud: ‘you sure have a talent for arriving at the same time as food, don’t you!’. Niklas shrugged in agreement. His fluffy slippers hit the wooden floor as he reached the bottom of the stairs. He ducked as his Mama’s hand reached out in a failed attempt to fix his sleepy, messy hair.. ‘Your hair looks like... a birds nest! I can’t believe how fast it’s grown!’ He shrugged again. Although he’d felt somewhat okay just moments before, his mood quickly began to drop. He wondered why he’d even gotten himself out of bed- he still felt like he had nothing good to give, no real reason for leaving his bed, no helping to do, well- nothing to do, nowhere to be.. or so he thought.

‘I’ve just pulled a fresh batch of cinnamon buns out of the oven for us all. Sussi’s a little late coming home from school today.. But she should be here any minute now.’

CHAPTER SEVEN:

Sussi reached up on her tippy-toes in her snow boots to the little metal bell that hung over their front door. Nope. Still too small. She’d loved that bell ever since she was tall enough to see that it existed, and although too short to reach it herself, usually Niklas picked her up so she could ring it. The magical tinkling sound sent shivers down her spine every time she heard it. And she loved it, it was one of her most favourite sounds on earth. But, she reminded herself sadly, even though Niklas had been back for a whole month now, it was like he’d never returned.

‘He’s sleeping’, Mama told Aunt Inga last time she was there for a visit, ‘he’s not feeling well’, the week before. Sometimes she’d see him sneaking into the kitchen to grab a cinnamon bun or two, but he never stayed longer than a few minutes. Sussi sunk sadly back down, the balls of her feet hitting the snow-dusted porch beneath her boots with a thud, sending a small puff of white dust into the night air. She scrunched her hand into a fist and let her unsuccessful hedgehog-hunt frustrations out as she knocked as loudly as possible on the door, the banging muffled by her mittens.

CHAPTER EIGHT:

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*bang bang bang*. The banging was soft but loud enough to be heard. ‘Ah! I spoke too soon. Sounds like she’s already here!’. Swinging the door open no more than just a Sussi-width, Mama welcomed her back inside, reaching to push the door closed behind her- before all the heat in the house could escape. First, her beanie came off, and then her scarf and then her mustard-coloured mittens, the pile of warmth growing higher with each additional piece. Then, Mama helped Sussi take off each of her puffy layers- one, two, three and four. Now that the doorly ritual was over, Mama’s eyes fell onto Sussi’s defeated face. Oh dear. Something was wrong. Crouching down to Sussi-level, she asked softly ‘Sussi, darling, how was your day?’. ‘Mama, I.. I just.. I just.. I just want to find a hedgehog!’ and with that she fell into Mama’s arms in a pile of tears.

CHAPTER NINE:

Niklas appeared from around the corner, red hair still an absolute disaster, and two cinnamon buns stacked neatly in the palm of his hand- one for him and one for his little sister. Waiting a moment while Sussi calmed her streaming tears into just little, hiccoughy sniffles, he announced: ‘Come on then. Let’s go and find one.’

Never had Sussi ever heard a sentence so sweet in her life. She wiped her runny nose with the back of her hand and ran to Niklas, wrapping her arms around his waist and squeezing him tightly. Niklas chuckled. Oh, Sussi’s moods. The most unpredictable and extreme things on earth. Sometimes terrible, but sometimes absolutely and truly wonderful.

Sussi’s heart was exploding with joy. The Niklas she knew and remembered was always determined to take on a challenge. It was so nice to have him back- even if just for a little while. She’d take anything.

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And back on the layers went- one, two, three and four. A pair of mustard-coloured mittens, a fluffy scarf and a thick knitted beanie. Niklas pulled on his coat, too. Then, Mama pushed her two marshmallow-like children with cinnamon buns stuffed in their mouths out the door, which had been swung open a little more than just a Sussi-width, just enough extra room to fit Niklas out at the same time too.

‘Remember who you aa-are’, she smiled. ‘I am a child of GOD!’ Sussi almost shouted back as she seemed to leap out the door onto the porch, her newfound excitement unmistakeable. ‘A child of God’, Niklas whispered softly to himself, those four words turning over in his mind, meaning so much more to him now than they did as a school child. He caught eyes with Mama and she smiled  gently at him, her eyes full of love and acceptance. Then she stepped back inside and closed the door, before all the heat in the house could escape.

CHAPTER TEN:

As per usual, Sussi jumped off the ledge of the porch, landing with a dull *thud* on the snow. Niklas jumped right after her, his *thud* a lot louder than Sussi’s, sending a puff of white dust high into the air. Sussi laughed out loud as she wiped the snow off her cheek where it had landed. ‘Niklas!’, she shouted- a friendly accusation. She reached down and picked up a little pile of snow and tossed it at him as hard as she could, missing him completely and hitting the little metal bell hanging over the doorway instead. It tinkled briefly, the magical sound sending shivers down Sussi’s spine, a sound she hadn’t heard since the day Niklas had left on his mission and he’d picked her up one last time to ring it.

Niklas smiled at his little sister- he’d forgotten how much she loved the sound that tiny bell made. The most simple of things could make her feel the most extreme of emotions. It was wild. And he loved it. With sparkles in her eyes, Sussi smiled back. This was a good day. A lightless day, but that didn’t really matter- the Australian summer sun had well and truly reached its way around from the other side of the world and not only given Niklas a sunny little kiss, but had gifted the whole of Täfteå with its warmth.  And on that note, Niklas jumped back up onto the porch, put both his hands under Sussi’s arms and lifted her up back onto the porch, and then up just high enough to reach the little metal bell.

She’d gotten a little bigger in the past year- but she’d always be his little sister. She grabbed the drop of metal from the bell’s centre and rung it as loudly as she could, giggles of glee backing the twinkly, tinny ringing. Niklas joined in as he put her back down, both laughing as they  jumped back down off the porch and into the snow with a synchronised *thud*.

CHAPTER ELEVEN:

‘And then, I don’t know, I just needed to come back. Sometimes we need to take care of ourselves before we can really help other people.’ Niklas was surprised at the words coming out of his own mouth- words he needed to hear just as much as Sussi did, who’d spent the past twenty minutes asking Niklas all about his year in Australia as a missionary.

It’s not that he’d done anything wrong, nor that that he’d been a bad missionary. In fact, he was a wonderful missionary- loving people with his all, praying for them every night and then working together as a team with his companion come daytime to help others understand why they were here on this earth, and what it all really meant. And all about that warm, peaceful feeling they’d received when hearing these truths. ‘That’s the Holy Ghost. He’s the one that’s helping us to understand how much God loves us.’, Niklas explained further to Sussi. They’d reached the edge of the forest by this point, their two flashlights lighting the snow in the sphere surrounding them.

‘You could even say that the Holy Ghost is kind of like our flashlights... showing us the right way, giving us light when it’s dark. You know?’ ‘I know’, Sussi replied. ‘Kind of like... the sun, too, right? Warm and bright. Something everyone needs.’ Niklas nodded. Sussi got it. Her bright face changed tone to something a little more serious. ‘But.. are you okay now? Are you taking care of yourself like you said you needed to?’ Sussi asked, a wise statement well beyond her 7 years. ‘I’m getting better. Slowly.’ She nodded, and then put her free, mitten-covered  hand in his and squeezed it softly.

CHAPTER TWELVE:

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All of a sudden, a gentle rustling broke the sweet, sacred silence that had settled over them. Sussi pointed her flashlight to the right into the beginnings of the forest where the sound had come from, frantically circling it to find whatever had made the sound. But the rustling stopped as quickly as it had started, making it impossible to locate. Feeling a little frightened, Sussi moved closer to Niklas. He squeezed her hand a little tighter. ‘I wonder..’, Niklas said softly, dropping his flashlight gently to the ground, freeing his hand to reach into his pocket and pull out something he’d reached right to the top shelf and snuck out of the house just in case. Opening his hand, he revealed to Sussi what he’d had stashed away all along- a biscuit. The kind hedgehogs absolutely loved- something Niklas and Sussi had discovered together years ago.

The rustling started again, this time a little louder. Sussi’s fear was quickly replaced with excitement. It sounded just like teeny, tiny feet moving quickly across the snow. And then came the familiar sound of teeny, tiny grunts. She turned off her flashlight and Niklas followed suit, hoping to be as invisible as possible. Letting their joined hands go, Niklas began breaking the biscuit into little pieces, placing half of them into Sussi’s now open, mitted hands. They trod as carefully and quietly as they could, a little closer to the forest, before kneeling to the ground with their hands stretched out and down low. Their eyes adjusted quickly and the full moon provided them with plenty of light to see just what had been making those sounds: and there they were….. not one, not two, but THREE hedgehogs!, scuttling out of the forest and across the snow toward them. Sussi tried her hardest to keep her squeals of joy as quiet as possible, but that didn’t stop the tears falling from her eyes- happy tears, that is.

Following their super-sensitive noses, all three of the tiny hedgehogs scuttled toward the open hands laden with little chunks of biscuits. The two bigger hedgehogs stuck their tiny noses into Niklas’ hand, gobbling the goods. The smallest of the three chose Sussi, whose hands were now resting right on the snowy forest floor, still with her palms up, dotted with food. He sniffed her mittens skeptically, before diving right in. By the magical light of the brightly beaming moon, the tears streaming down Sussi’s face seemed to glitter. She turned to Niklas, and whispered ‘Can you believe it!?’. Niklas smiled at his ever-excited little sister. He could hardly believe it either, but he knew that Heavenly Father would take any opportunity to show his children just how much he loved them, and this was certainly one of those times for Sussi. And for him too.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN:

Niklas sat up in his bed. It wasn’t the bright moonlight that had woken him up, and it wasn’t the Australian sunshine either. It was something else- casting strange shadows in through his sheer curtains and across his bedroom wall. He pushed off his covers, slid his feet into his fluffy slippers, and stepped the three steps to his window. Was it..? He pulled the curtains aside and his heart felt like it had exploded inside of him. Yes, it was. The northern lights swished and swayed as they danced in magical bursts of colour across the sky.

Greens with purple-tinted edges were dancing, diving, swirling and twirling, intertwined with deep, dark blues. This time it was Niklas’ turn to wipe his eyes as tears began to stream down his face- it was that overwhelming and undeniable feeling that his Heavenly Father really did love him. Not just that, but that He really did care about him, no matter what hard things he was going through, no matter what country he was in, no matter where he was in his own personal journey. He needed this. And he needed this tonight.

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN:

Still dressed in his pajamas, he seemed to fly down the stairs, kicking off his slippers by the front door. Opening it no more than just a Niklas-width, he slipped out and then closed it quickly behind him- before all the heat in the house could escape. He jumped off the ledge of the porch instead of taking the two stairs, landing with a dull *thud* on the snow, the cold stinging his bare feet instantly, sending a small puff of white dust into the night air. He felt like he was crazy but proceeded anyway, running through the snow to the big open field by their home, as quickly as possible so his feet could have millisecond-long breaks from the stabbing cold of the snow-covered ground.

He saw what looked like a soft spot of snow, dropped to his knees and then finally onto his back, arms stretched out wide, red hair falling into the snow. The lights had slowed down, now gently scraping across the deep, dark sky. He closed his eyes and said a prayer in his head, thanking God for this perfect evening. Opening his eyes again, he saw the heat of his breath escaping in a misty cloud above him. As soon as it disappeared, the colourful sky seemed to pick up pace once again, this time with bursts of magenta interspersed amid the green. Never before had he ever seen the lights so strong, so fast, so vibrant. He could hardly believe it was real.

He looked up at the pointy wooden house he called home, and saw Mama peering out her bedroom window at him. Her face was lit up by the light of flickering candles as they sent angel-shaped chimes in tinkling circles around the window ornament, and she appeared to be smiling. She saw he could see her, so she lifted her hand and waved. He waved back, and then gestured that she come join.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN:

Three minutes later, the wooden front door burst open, and out came not just Mama, but Sussi too. They’d pulled on their snow boots and grabbed a pile of blankets at lightning speed on their way down. Sussi was carrying Niklas’ boots, too. Although still in a just-woke-up sleepy daze, she leapt off the porch as per usual. Mama took the less-daring route down the two stairs instead. Together, they ran through the snow toward where Niklas was laying, tiny flecks of white flying everywhere as they went. Niklas jumped up and pulled on his boots quickly, his frozen feet melting inside them almost instantly, and shook out the biggest blanket they’d brought onto the soft spot he’d been laying on for the past few blissful minutes. Mama rolled up a blanket longways for all three of them to use as a pillow, before laying on one side of Niklas, Sussi snuggling up to him on the other. Spreading the final blanket to cover all three of them, tucking it under her to stop the cold air from sneaking in, Mama glanced over at her two, beautiful children as they stared up into the heavens. Then, with a gentle voice to match the mood, she whispered, ‘Remember who you are!’. Both Niklas and Sussi turned their heads toward her, cheeks flushed pink and beautiful from the biting cold, and in unison and with gentle conviction- but still at a volume soft and gentle  to match the reverence- they whispered back ‘I am a child of God’.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN:

With a smile on her face, Mama shuffled her shoulders and lay back on the makeshift pillow. She turned her gaze upwards, joining her children to watch and marvel at the sky-sized cinema performing its magical movements- pinks and greens with purple-tinted edges, dancing and diving, swirling and twirling, intertwined with deep, dark blues.

Although the winter days ahead were still long and still dark, that night marked something significant: it was the night of the winter solstice. The next day the sun would stay a little longer, just for a moment, but longer nonetheless- and the next day even longer than that, until eventually the sun would come and it would stay.


Now that you’ve read the story, here is a special quiz designed just for you to fill out!

Name *
Name
How often do you read?
Which character was your favorite?
If your friends read this book, do you think they would want to:
How hard was it to read? Did you understand all the words?
Would you be interested in being one of the kiddy illustrators to draw the pictures for this book?