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While walking down a road in Fuller Junction, Wisconsin, a town settled by Norwegian immigrants, seven-year-old Selma Jacobson tries to impress her five-year-old cousin, Arnold Hanson, by throwing a rock at a squirrel. Much to Selma's dismay, the rock hits the squirrel and kills it. While Selma tearfully mourns the death of the squirrel, Ingeborg Jensen, a young, emotionally frail Norwegian woman, approaches Selma and Arnold and offers them her friendship. Ingeborg's visit is interrupted, however, by her strict father Kurt, who demands that she return to her chores. Later, while driving Arnold and Selma home, Nels Halverson, the editor of the local newspaper, stops to greet Viola Johnson, the new schoolteacher, who has just arrived from Milwaukee. Viola accepts a ride from Nels, and when asked about her impression of Fuller Junction, she complains that the town is too small for her. She also tells Nels that she is working on her doctorate in education, and that she was sent to Fuller Junction because she is of Norwegian descent and speaks Norwegian. Determined to change her impression of Fuller Junction, Nels offers to show Viola some of the town's hidden charms. When Selma returns home, she reports the squirrel incident to her devoted father Martinius, who tries to help his daughter forget about it by giving her a new calf. Viola, meanwhile, befriends Ingeborg and encourages her to enroll in school. Her efforts are thwarted, however, when Kurt refuses to allow Ingeborg to leave the farm. One day, Martinius punishes Selma for selfishly refusing to share her rollerskates with Arnold, and sends her to bed without dinner. Later that night, Martinius, feeling guilty about punishing Selma, takes her to see a circus troupe that is passing through town. A short time later, Ingeborg dies unexpectedly, and her death saddens Viola, the only person in town who made an effort to understand her. A romance eventually develops between Nels and Viola, but Viola resists further intimacy because she plans to return to Milwaukee. On Christmas Day, at her church, Selma gives a moving recitation of the story of the Nativity, and afterward presents her father with a brand new knife. Months later, when springtime floodwaters engulf the town, Selma and Arnold play in an old bathtub, which they use as a makeshift rowboat. The two quickly lose control of the tub, however, and are carried away by a raging current. The near tragedy ends happily, however, when Arnold and Selma are rescued by some of the townspeople. One night, during a thunderstorm, Bjorn Bjornson's barn catches fire and is destroyed. At a church service, Nels solicits donations to help the Bjornsons rebuild their barn. The townspeople drop only a few coins into collection box until Selma shames everyone by generously donating her calf. Her donation inspires the townspeople to give more money, and prompts Viola to reconsider her harsh judgment of the town. Realizing that she has fallen in love with both the town and Nels, Viola decides to stay in Fuller Junction.