While recent years have found me reading nothing but new books, if I had my druthers I would be basking in the wave of vintage books that are available for free. I would have been quite content with an e reader when I was in middle school if I could have loaded it with obscure titles by Alcott, Montgomery and other authors from the 1800s.
So when I had to pull a prebound copy of A Little Princess from my library shelves this spring (it smelled horrible and was crumbling into little pieces), I wasn't sure if I should purchase another copy. Taking the rare opportunity to reread the book, I thought it was worth a review.
Burnett, Frances Hodgson. A Little Princess (1905)
Sara is the much beloved, motherless daughter of Captain Crewe, who is stationed in India. Since it is well established that the Indian climate is bad for children, Sara is brought back to England at the tender age of seven to attend Miss Minchin's Select Seminary School. Her father lavishes her with anything she could want before he goes back to India, and while Miss Minchin thinks it is rather ridiculous, she makes a pet of Sara to secure his favor. All goes along swimmingly-- far from being spoiled, Sara is a delightful child who is attuned to the needs of others and makes friends among the other students, as well as the staff at the school. Then tragedy strikes: not only does Sara's father die, but he leaves her penniless. Miss Minchin can't throw her out into the streets, so begrudgingly lets her stay, living in the attic with the rats and Becky, the household girl, and teaching the younger students French. She is also sent on countless errands and feels Miss Minchin's rather should she do anything wrong. But even thin, shabby clothing and near starvation don't get Sara down. She still remembers those in more dire need than she is, and remains kind and polite. Her attic room is within view of the attic of the house next door, and when "an Indian gentleman" who is very ill moves in, his manservant gets a glimpse of her impoverished life. Since the Indian gentleman is trying to locate the daughter of a friend who died after investing money with him, he feels he should help Sara, and soon the manservant is taking over food, furnishing, and all sorts of delightful trifles to make Becky and Sara's lives easier. Eventually, the truth is told-- Sara is in fact the little girl he is looking for, and she is able to leave the evil Miss Minchin and take her rightful place in society.
Strengths: This is a good book for girls who like to read problem novels. Poor Sara is endlessly abused, and there's something comforting about her high spirits in the face of her problems, as well as her eventual rescue.
Weaknesses: Modern children may want to smack Sara for her relentless perkiness, not being used to the sorts of moral tales told in days of yore. This is not for every reader, but it is for a select few, and since my own personal daughter refused to relinquish her own hard cover copy (she was rightly suspicious when I asked to borrow it!), I will indeed be buying a new copy for my library.