Spun off from Johnston's Louisa May (1991), this tale of a German immigrant family's harsh first winter in America not only captures some of the flavor and spirit of Little Women, it also artfully suggests how incidents and people from Alcott's real life ended up in her novels. One of five children (with another on the way), Lotta Muller watches hard times take their toll: Her mother and little sister fall ill; Vater, unable to find steady work, takes to drink and finally disappears altogether; her brother is jailed for stealing food. Fortune smiles on the Mullers at last when a kindly passerby gives Lotta the address of Mrs. Bronson Alcott, who briskly enlists her gentle, brilliant husband and four lively daughters to take matters in hand. Sixteen-year-old ""Louy"" becomes Lotta's special friend, helping her to learn English in exchange for German lessons, and teaching her to value her own mind and talents. Chock full both of biographical facts and literary references (the Alcotts are so close to the Marches, and the Mullers to the Hummels, that Johnston's story and the classic may blend in some readers' minds), this book, strong enough to stand on its own, also makes an engaging prelude--or postscript--to its timeless progenitor.