Alta Halverson Seymour
From the dust jacket of The Christmas Stove

Alta Halverson Seymour

1893 -

Papa’s store, in Deer Park, Wisconsin, at the turn of the century, held a special fascination for Alta Halverson Seymour. In a curious mix of his native Norwegian and German, Papa often told jokes, gave advice, and shared stories as he fulfilled customers’ orders of sugar, overalls, candy, calico, soap, eggs and women’s hats. Alta took all of this in, soon making up her own stories to entertain her younger brother and sister.   

Growing up in a quiet and scholarly home, she read her first book at age five and soon began attending school. Demonstrating both business acumen and scholarship at a young age, she successfully started her own public stenographic office in Los Angeles. After selling it at age nineteen in order to enter the University of Minnesota, she graduated with a B.A. after two and a quarter years, a proud member of Phi Beta Kappa. 

It didn’t take her long to begin her storied writing career. A prolific author, The Christian Science Monitor published more than 50 articles where she frequently wrote vignettes of her childhood growing up over her papa’s general store. Along with contributing serials, short stories, and historical and biographical articles to many periodicals, she also penned operettas with Helen Wing.

Taking the saying, “write what you know” to heart, two of her first books featured Norway, her father’s homeland. And because traveling was one of her favorite hobbies, she and her husband frequented European countries where many of her stories are set. Believing that a writer must have a deep knowledge of the topic in order to write something worthwhile, she carefully researched each detail so that she not only told a good story but provided an informative aspect to each of her books. Mrs. Seymour and her husband, George, often traveled by freighter or mail-boat to out-of-the-way places in order to find interesting people and unusual situations which then informed her writing.  They also enjoyed collecting unusual keepsakes such as brass and copper pots, a cast-iron skillet, pewter candlesticks, books and other authentic Scandinavian curios which inspired her. Their kitchen was the centerpiece of their home and they considered it a friend itself. It's no wonder that their friends gathered in this big space to visit, eat, chat and listen to this delightful storyteller. She said this of the kitchen: 

"My grandmother had a cozy, comfortable kitchen that smelled of good things, where we always liked to visit. I remember the rug on her floor, the fireplace, the plants in the window, and a narrow old spool day bed with cushions stuffed with feathers from her geese. I haven't the narrow couch for a wink of sleep, but I have the other comforts."

A self-disciplined woman, she set regular writing hours from 9-11:30 am each morning, when her friends knew she was not to be disturbed. Usually writing 1,000 words during that time, her husband was her first critic, reading each new section the following day. She also enjoyed sharing her stories with others, often speaking to middle-schoolers, scheduling many engagements and autograph appearances after each new book. 

As writing was not only her profession, but her favorite activity, this quote from Mrs. Seymour sums it up quite nicely: 

“Sometimes I write articles for adults, but I like best to write for boys and girls.”

Her books include an extensive amount of fiction which provides us with a delightful glimpse into European children’s lives in nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And knowing her careful eye for detail, each book gives not only an accurate perspective, but an enjoyable romp through another child’s life. 

—Deanna Knoll

Toward Morning: A Story of the Hungarian Freedom Fighters
At Snug Harbor Inn
Charles Steinmetz
The Tangled Skein
Timothy Keeps a Secret
Galewood Crossing
The Christmas Stove: A Story of Switzerland
The Top o' Christmas Morning
Erik's Christmas Camera
The Christmas Donkey
Arne and The Christmas Star
Kaatje and the Christmas Compass
A Grandma for Christmas
When the Dikes Broke
On the Edge of the Fjord
Other Titles
  • The Secret of the Hidden Room, Westminster Press, 1949