Joan W. Blos

A Gathering of Days

  • This summary of A Gathering of Days includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

A Gathering of Days Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Gathering of Days by Joan W. Blos.

A Gathering of Days by Joan W. Blos features the fictional journal of Catherine, a young girl living in New England before the Civil War. The journal, which records a single, tumultuous year in Catherine’s life, has been passed down to her great-granddaughter and namesake. Atheneum Books first published the novel for young readers in 1979.

The story opens with a letter to Catherine from her great-grandmother, Catherine Hall Onesti, explaining that she is giving her the journal that she received on her fourteenth birthday. It was her last year on her family’s farm, the year her father remarried, and the year she lost her best friend.

The journal begins on October 17, 1830. Catherine Hall explains that the journal was brought back from Boston to her home in Meredith, New Hampshire, as a gift from her father. Her diary includes several aspects of her daily life, including events that happened at school, recipes, jokes, and family stories. Her father, Charles, is a widower, as her mother died giving birth to a baby boy that didn’t survive. She has a little sister, Matty, and a neighbor friend, Cassie Shipman.

Provoked by a school lesson, Catherine reveals that she hopes to always remain in the house that her father built with his own two hands and prays that harm never comes to the people she loves: Matty, Cassie, the Shipmans, and her unmarried Uncle Jack. She also wants to train herself to do as she is asked and wishes that her hair were curly.

One night, Catherine’s father tells the girls a ghost story about a man who goes into the woods after his four runaway hogs and sees a headless woman in the dark, only to find later that it was only a tree. The lesson, Charles posits, is that intelligence and reason must come before fear.

Catherine later sees a mysterious, lanky man in tattered clothes moving about the woods. He vanishes before Catherine can point him out to Cassie.

Later that month, Uncle Jack and Charles are discussing how frequently slaves seem to be escaping these days in comparison to the few that escaped during their childhood. Charles says that if he were to run into an escaped slave, he would turn him in, but Jack suggests that maybe the “boy” is right to run off.

Catherine sees the “Phantom” in Piper’s Woods again and resolves to examine the area. Cassie’s school lesson book soon disappears. After several days, the book reappears on a rock close to the school. Someone has written a plea for help in the book, and Cassie’s brother, Asa, suggests the writer might be an escaped slave.

Days after they find the lesson book, a few pies go missing from the storage of Cassie and Asa’s family. Asa says that he took the pies and his parents whip him. He and Catherine secretly suspect that the fugitive slave took the pies.

Cassie is let in on Asa and Catherine’s secret, and the group decides to take a quilt that Catherine’s mother made to the slave. They leave it on the rock where Catherine found her lesson book, and it is soon gone. There are no more signs of the slave, and the children begin to think maybe he has left.

Cassie’s unmarried and stylish Aunt Lucy visits town hoping to catch the eye of Charles Hall. Despite her elegant looks and cooking abilities, Charles is uninterested, and Lucy stops pursuing him.

One day, Catherine’s teacher, Teacher Holt, brings a copy of The Liberator to the school, a newspaper put out by William Lloyd Garrison that calls for the emancipation of the slaves. This controversial move causes people in the town to believe Holt aided an escaped slave. He moves in with Cassie’s family and no longer reads the abolitionist text at school, but continues to teach its contents after school. While living with the Shipmans, Teacher Holt has a romantic connection with Aunt Lucy, and the two are soon engaged.

Charles arrives back from his trading trip to Boston and announces that he has become engaged to a widow named Ann Highman. At first hesitant around Ann, Catherine soon becomes more comfortable with her and her son, Daniel.

One day, when Cassie and Catherine’s families are picking berries together, Cassie gets a chill and comes down with a fever. Her condition worsens over the next several days, and she dies. Catherine begins having trouble at school with the new instructor, and Ann decides to homeschool her.

Meanwhile, Lucy and Holt had previously put off their wedding date due to Cassie’s death. Now married and living in another town, they have a new baby, and they ask Catherine to come to help out. The journal ends as Catherine prepares to leave, reflecting on the year.

The novel won the1980 Newbery Medal for excellence in American Children’s literature and the 1980 Book Award for Children’s books.