Archive for the ‘Children’s Classics’ Category

rose in bloom cover

Rose in Bloom covers a relatively brief period in the life of Rose Campbell. It picks up, not right after Eight Cousins ends, but between a year and eighteen months later. The time that is left unnarrated involved a lengthy trip to Europe taken by Rose, Uncle Alec and Phebe, Rose’s maid-and-unofficially-adopted-sister.

Rose has grown up during her time away from the Aunt Hill, coming of age as a young woman preparing to be launched into society and into marriage. Phebe, as well, has become an accomplished singer during the time in Europe, and has also blossomed into a beauty.

Most of Rose in Bloom concerns the nineteenth century process of finding a husband and wild oats sowing. Upon arrival home, Rose is – accidentally – informed by the youngest and bluntest of the boys that she is intended for one of her cousins to keep her money in the family. She is a bit put off by this, but appears to acquiesce to the family plans to marry her off to Charlie, the second oldest, handsomest, wildest, and most spoiled of the Campbell males.

So, this book. It is, in my opinion, neither as charming nor as enjoyable as Eight Cousins. Louisa May and her preachiness cannot be contained. Also, the whole first cousins marrying thing is a bit squicky. Apparently Alcott did not feel this way, but I do.

So, approaching Rose in Bloom with an eye toward the time in which it was written is absolutely necessary to enjoy the book at all. Otherwise, it is not possible to refrain from violent eye-rolling at the expectations placed upon poor Rose and her magical virtue which will somehow turn drunkards and animals into young gentlemen. Also, straying from the path of righteousness is definitely going to kill you.

rose in bloom

But, it is Alcott, and it was the nineteenth century, and, well, Rose in Bloom is actually really, really sweet. And the actual romance between Rose and her ultimate suitor is adorable. And Rose herself remains good-hearted and honest and pretty immune to nonsense. She does stand up for herself when she must and she refuses to be sacrificed to save her cousin. And good for her, because there was no substance there, just empty charm and looks.

There is also a charming side story about Phebe and Archie falling in love.


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eight cousins

Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom make up the duology of books about the main character Rose Campbell. These are two of my favorite Alcott books, which I recently re-read for the Alcott event and also for my ongoing series on children’s classics.

Of the two, I prefer Eight Cousins, which is the story of young Rose, who is orphaned and sent to live at the Aunt Hill, with her two great-aunts. Both Aunt Plenty and Aunt Peace are rather elderly spinsters. Rose has lived with her father, George, apart from the rest of the Campbell clan, which consists of five other Campbell brothers and their wives and offspring.

When Eight Cousins begins, Rose is 13 years old. This part of the story takes us through Rose’s 16th-ish birthday. Rose is the only girl of her generation, with 7 male cousins from age 16 (Archie) through 6 (Jamie).

Rose is sweet-natured, and ends up being raised by her bachelor Uncle Alec, a seafaring doctor who has “ideas” about child-rearing that most relate to girls being treated more like boys, and encouraged to read good books, take lots of exercise, and not wear corsets. Rose is a rather sickly child when she arrives at the Aunt Hill and is rapidly restored to health by dint of a large waistband, fresh milk, fresh air, and lots less sighing over girly stuff. This could be annoying, but it really isn’t, since the treatment of girl-children during this era was mostly ridiculous and Rose’s raising is much more consistent with how I personally think girls should be raised (with lovely things like access to books and education) versus how they were actually raised.

Alcott’s father, Bronson, was a well-known educational reformer, and Alcott’s stories are full of themes about equality of education for women. Rose is not eligible to attend actual school (being a girl and all), but Uncle Alec makes sure that she has access to resources to allow for some self-education.

There is some of Alcott’s trademark moralizing, but it isn’t as heavy-handed in the first volume of the Rose Campbell story as it becomes in the next. Rose is raised to be, and is generally, thoughtful, modest, honest and generous. She spends a lot of time caring for her sick cousin, Mac, who is the studious one of the lot, and is two years older than Rose.

The boys are a boisterous, rowdy crew. The Campbells are obviously quite affluent, and Alcott’s theories, as well, about the obligation of the rich to care for the poor are mostly shown through Rose’s charitable activities. Rose is quite an heiress, and decides early that she wishes to be a philanthropist and to help others with her fortune. She is a bit of a Mary Sue, but she’s so darned charming about it that it works.

This is a classic for a reason. It is probably much too quiet and modest a story to appeal to modern girls. Which is too bad, really.

The sequel to Eight Cousins is Rose in Bloom. Review forthcoming.

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Anne of Windy Poplars was the Anne-read for May. This book is placed 4th in the series, although it was actually written 7th, after Rilla of Ingleside but before Rainbow Valley. Rilla which is considered to be the final book in the series, so AoWP goes back and fills in one of the gaps in Anne’s story – at the point that it is written, LMM knows what path Anne’s life will take, even if Anne does not. This book follows, as well, the two short story collections associated with Anne Shirley, The Chronicles of Avonlea and The Further Chronicles of Avonlea. During Windy Poplars, Anne is 22 to 25 years of age, and this book takes place while she is living away from Avonlea, and away from Gilbert, teaching school.

Anne of Windy Poplars is, therefore, very different from the prior three entries in the series. Anne is, at this point, absolutely a grown-up, and is living on her own. She exercises a surprising amount of independence in her decision to go off to Summerside by herself. Gilbert and Anne are engaged, but Gilbert makes almost no appearance in this book, except as the recipient of the letters that Anne writes to him from Summerside. Windy Poplars is partially epistolary, and much of the story is told through Anne’s letters, which allow the reader the closest acquaintanceship with Anne Shirley that we’ve gotten so far. Her voice is, as always, charming.

The inhabitants of Summerside, as well, are well drawn. Anne lives with a pair of spinster sisters, Aunt Chatty and Aunt Kate, and their housekeeper, Rebecca Dew. There is also a cat, Dusty Miller, whose conflict with Rebecca Dew provides comic relief. Anne gets into a number of jams, starting with the fact that she was hired at all, which created a great deal of resentment on the part of one of the prominent families in the area – the Pringles – who expected the job to go to one of their members. The Pringle clan gives her a great deal of grief early in the book, which is resolved in a funny and satisfactorily Anneish fashion. This entire episode is, in my opinion, one of the great strengths of Anne of Windy Poplars. It is full of the trademark LMM wit, and involves an incident of historical cannibalism. Which is really quite funny, actually. She also becomes close to an emotionally abused little girl living next door, named Little Elizabeth. LMM was known to write the occasional over-the-top plot moppet (Davy, I’m looking at you), but Little Elizabeth is a much more sympathetic character than that. Anne, after much internal debate, steps into that situation and interferes, something that took a lot of courage in a time when the community was fairly hands-off about the manner in which families could treat – or mistreat – their children.

The book also introduces us to Katherine Brooke, a fellow teacher, who ends the book by becoming very close to Anne. Her story is complicated, heartbreaking and inspiring, and over the course of the book, I went from really not liking Katherine to feeling sympathetic toward her, to becoming a fan. She is a complex character, in a series that does, at times, lack complex characters. LMM was great at quick character sketches (e.g. the Little Fellow in AotI) but not nearly as good at creating multi-dimensional and complicated characters. Katherine is, I would say, an exception to this characteristic.

AoWP is one of the more controversial Anne books – it is written very differently and it was added late in the series. For me, it’s a win. I loved hearing the unedited voice of Anne in her letters to Gilbert and seeing her take some risks in an effort to be true to her principles.

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Anne of the Island was the May read for my year long series re-read. I was joking with a friend that this installment of Anne is the age group generally covered by the so-called category of New Adult, or NA.

I have had generally terrible luck with NA books. I’ve read several of them, and pretty much hated them all. Just by way of a partial list: Beautiful Disaster (I hated both Abby and Travis), The Edge of Never (which put me on the edge of never reading another book shelved NA), Callum and Harper (Oh, dear God in heaven, the writing. The writing in this book was so horrible, I shudder when I think back on the experience of reading it), One Week Girlfriend (which should be sub-titled one half of a book because it ends about halfway through the actual story), Hopeless (I know that a lot of people loved this book. I didn’t).

There were a few that I liked that aren’t actually shelved NA, but which are the right age category: In the Shadow of Blackbirds (historical fiction set during the Spanish influenza epidemic) and Out of the Easy (1950’s New Orleans), and Easy, which is the only classic NA title I’ve actually liked.

But, back to Anne of the Island.

This is among my favorite of the Anne books. Anne has left childhood behind for Redmond College, where she is an undergraduate. She spends three years at Redmond College, where she does all of the usual collegiate things, with an Anneish twist. She arrives at Redmond, with her friend Priscilla from Queens beginning her first year as well, and the two girls quickly befriend Philippa. Lifelong college friendships are made, and romances are had. Anne becomes quite popular with the Redmond men, although true love eludes her. She remains stubbornly friends with Gilbert, and Gilbert, as far as she can tell, has given up on romancing Anne. She takes up with a young man who represents her ideal in every way – Royal Gardner. He is darkly handsome, poetic, and stormily romantic. He also bores her nearly to tears, but it takes her a long while to realize that sometimes when you get what you think you want, it turns out that you are wrong.

My favorite chapters take place in Patty’s Place, the little cottage rented by Anne, Priscilla & Phil in a stroke of luck, when Anne charms the owners who are embarking on an around the world trip into renting to three college girls and a maiden aunt. This entire incident could only happen to Anne Shirley, with her knack of finding kindred spirits everywhere.

This book is old – I get that. I am also old – I went to college from 1984 through 1989. But LMM manages to capture universal experiences none the less. Those first years of adulthood and exploration, figuring out who you are and what you want and what kind of man you could love (in Anne’s case, of course, it’s Gilbert Blythe, which everyone BUT her figures out when they are both about 12 years old) and what kind of life you want. Anne’s options are somewhat limited by her time – she is destined to be a wife and mother because that is what women of the time did, but it is up to her to be the wife and the mother that she wants to be and to find her own way in a world that gives her so many different, and delightful, choices.

Anyway, as I said at the start of this post, this is one of my favorite of the Anne series. I absolutely love it.

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Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase Plot summary courtesy of Goodreads:

Wicked wolves and a grim governess threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie’s parents leave Willoughby Chase for a sea voyage. Left in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp, the girls can hardly believe what is happening to their once happy home. The servants are dismissed, the furniture is sold, and Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a prison-like orphan school. It seems as if the endless hours of drudgery will never cease.

With the help of Simon the gooseboy and his flock, they escape. But how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp

I think that this is my favorite cover of the five books in this series. There is something so compelling about it. My specific book was the 50th anniversary Yearling issue, and the cover was originally copyrighted in 1962 by Edward Gorey. Which explains in part why I like it so much, because I often like Edward Gorey’s work.

The 50th anniversary printing also had a lovely introduction by the author’s daughter, Elizabeth Charloff, who writes:

From its dramatic opening, “It was dusk – winter dusk,” in the snowy, wolf-filled park of the great house of Willoughby Chase to its glorious and satisfying conclusion, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase sweeps readers into another world.

Joan Aiken was a prolific writer of children’s books, and came from a family steeped in literary talent. Her sister, Jane Aiken Hodge was a writer of romance and suspense novels and her father was poet Conrad Aiken. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the first entry into the world of Dido Twite, an alternative history Britain.

My thoughts on the book: I absolutely loved it. So far, it is tied with The Children of Green Knowe, and I prefer both of those to The Enchanted Castle. The historical setting is unique and interesting without being fantastical. There were plot elements that reminded me of Burnett’s A Little Princess, Harry Potter, and the books of Roald Dahl. There is a darkness to the book – the evil headmistress really is evil. Children really are treated with cruelty.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase pretty much falls into what I like to call the plucky orphan type of children’s books, a storyline that is frequently seen in children’s – especially British children’s – literature. In this particular case, the kind and loving parents of Bonnie, the daughter at Willoughby Chase, disappear early in the book, and they are subjected to the not at all tender ministrations of the evil, mercenary guardian, Miss Slighcarp (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Miss Minchin. Or to Professor Umbridge). The book chronicles their escape from her clutches, and her ultimate vanquishment, which is highly satisfying.

I can’t believe that I had never heard of this book before I started this project, but I had not. It is a short, quick read at 181 pages, but is highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and plan to work on tracking down the remainder of the series.

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Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

The Children of Green Knowe
Where to begin with the Children of Green Knowe? On the one hand, it is a sweet, simple little ghost story – not a scary ghost story, but a ghost story nonetheless. On the other hand, it is a timeless meditation on family, the past, the present, and the intersection of all three in the most magical way.

I loved this book. Tolly – the living child who arrives at Green Knowe by boat, because the land around the manor house is completely flooded. And, what a marvelous image it is when he awakens in the old fashioned nursery under the eaves – a giant ark of a house surrounded by flooded water that has come over the banks of the river below.

Toby, Alexander and Linnet, the ghost children who died centuries earlier in the Great Plague, and who still haunt Green Knowe in the most friendly of fashions, along with their beloved pets. Green Knowe (or, Green Noah, as it is called in the book) is full of magic.

Green Noah
Demon Tree
Evil Fingers
Can’t catch me

Green Knowe is an otherworldly place, Grandmother Oldknowe is a character with a foot planted firmly in both of Green Knowe’s incarnations. The book reminds me a bit of C.S. Lewis’s timeless classic [book:The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe|100915] without the overt Christian allegory: an old mansion that is more than it appears, a world out of time, and an elderly sagelike character to help the main characters put their time there in perspective.

I discovered this book a bit too late for my children – a daughter, 17 (who has long since graduated to adult fare) and a son, 13. There is a lovely section about Christmas at Green Knowe, however, so I think I will try it out this holiday season as a seasonal read aloud, which is a long-standing tradition between my son and I.

I will close with a quote:

“Outside, the world was most magical. It had stopped snowing. The garden looked like the back of a giant swan, curled up to sleep. There was nothing but white slopes, white curves, white rounded softnesses with bright blud shadows. Nothing had been scraped aside or trodden on. The only footmarks wre the birds’ round the door. The yew trees had disappeared. In their places were white hills with folds and creases i their sides. Tolly picked up a handful of snow and found it was made up of tiny violet stars.”

Highly recommended for children of all ages.

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Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

The Enchanted Castle

E. Nesbit wrote: “There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs forever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real.”

The Enchanted Castle circumnavigates this boundary between magic and reality. There are four children at the center of this classic children’s novel: three siblings, Jerry, Jimmy and Kathleen, and the “castle” housekeeper’s niece, Mabel, whom they meet while exploring the castle grounds. She is dressed in a pink gown, and is pretending to be a sleeping princess who must be awakened, a la Sleeping Beauty, with a kiss. This is a very classic British children’s fantasy, and although I can’t say that it is my favorite by Edith Nesbit, it is a good example of her work. In a Nesbit book, there is generally some sort of magical device or place that is stumbled upon by average, typically upper-class, British children, high jinks and mayhem ensue because the children’s manipulation of the magic tends to go badly awry, there is some mild danger generated by the situations in which they find themselves, the children ultimately develop a respect for and understanding of the rules by which the magic operates, and then there is a happy ending of some sort.

As Kathleen said, “I think magic things are spiteful. They just enjoy getting you into tight places.”

I chose the Puffin Classics version for my reading, which I would recommended – it is a relatively inexpensive version, and is going to be far better than any of the junky print-on-demand books for sale on online retailers like Amazon.com. The illustrations are included in the Puffin Classics publication, although this isn’t a book where the illustrations are of supreme importance. All of Nesbit’s works are out of copyright, so anyone can throw a OCR’d kindlebook or POD book up for sale. In my opinion, purchasers are always better off with a book published by a reputable publisher like Penguin. If you are going for the kindle version, try the free one first, and see if it is miserably formatted before spending money on a version that may not be any better than the free one.

Other writers similar to E. Nesbit include Edward Eager, as his books are written in much the same style and are also completely wonderful (truth be told, I prefer Eager to Nesbit. Heresy, I know.)

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