September 2023 Book of the Month Club - Choose Your Own – Favorite Childhood Books Edition

allmykitties

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A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My chosen book, A Little Princess, was one that I first encountered when I was in third grade (or a little older than Sara herself at the beginning of the tale). I actually have two copies now, I'm not sure how I ended up with the paperback, but I also ended up with a hard-cover that was a school library discard. As a child, I remember reading A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett) and being captivated by the 'long ago' and Cinderella-esque story with a main character who was very relatable to my child-self. Originally written as a novella in 1888, this was later expanded to be published in 1905 as the book I loved in my childhood. From contextual clues, it seems that the original date of writing (latter third of the 19th century) is also the setting of the book. There are no specific dates in the story itself, which does also seem to support the sense that this was originally written as a contemporary (from the original novella) rather than as a period piece. There are some issues with the time/passage of time in the story, but I'll hit on that after the outline of the story. I don't remember any particular memories associated with reading this book—I was a very voracious reader and had a tendency to “gobble up” books, rather like Sara herself.

The Story (for those who have not read it)
The story begins with the protagonist, Sara Crewe, being brought to London to go to school after having lived in India up to then. Sara's mother had died when Sara herself was born, so there was no one to put the brakes on her father, Ralph Crewe, spoiling her with material goods. She is enrolled in the private school run by Miss Minchin at age 7. From the outset, she is established as being both wealthy and privileged (she is at a boarding school but has a private bedroom and sitting room, a private maid, her own pony and carriage, and a very extravagant wardrobe), solemn and quiet, with a fluency in multiple languages (French is established early on, Hindi [Hindustani in the text] toward the end, in addition to English). She in initially fawned over by Miss Minchin due to her wealth. On the first day, though, Sara embarrasses Miss Minchin regarding Sara's fluency in French (and Miss Minchin's lack thereof). Sara is a brilliant student, and establishes a circle of friends—fellow student Ermengarde St John (who is a rather dull-witted, but sweet, girl Sara's age), Lottie (the youngest child in the school), and even the scullery maid (the lowest status in the house), Becky. As countering forces, there is Lavinia (the oldest student in the school, five years older than Sara) who is clearly jealous of Sara and a bit spiteful, along with Lavinia's follower, Jessie. Other students are clearly present, but never as individuals.

Sara's father gets involved in a speculative business deal involving diamond mines, and much is made of how immense the wealth will be from this. However, first there must be the dramatic downturn in Sara's life. On her 11th birthday, there is an elaborate birthday party interrupted by the news that Sara's father had died and the diamond mines were believed to be a bust, leaving her an orphaned pauper with no known relations. Between the financial losses and her long-simmering resentment of Sara for inadvertently embarrassing her on that first day in class, Miss Minchin turns Sara into a servant. During the time that follows, Sara is subjected to all sorts of abuse, including deprivation of food and being made to wear the oldest clothes she owned even though she had outgrown them. In the meantime, Mr Carrisford, the friend of her father/father's business partner, recovered from his own illness enough to look for her, although initially in all the wrong locations. In some of her darkest days, Sara finds a fourpence in the mud outside a bakery and buys four penny-buns, but the baker puts in two extra because she can see how hungry Sara is. Sara then goes outside where a beggar girl is and gives away five of those buns to the beggar girl.

By chance, Mr Carrisford had taken the house next to the school where Sara lives/works, and through Mr Carrisford's Indian servant Ram Dass, the first turning of Sara's status begins as he provides anonymously for some of her material needs. However, when the monkey belonging to Ram Dass again escapes into Sara's attic room (where she had been relegated after the death of her father), she goes to return the monkey and the truth comes out about her identity. Sara's wealth is restored, and she is taken from the school (implied that she will have private tutoring thereafter); Becky is offered a position as her personal maid (a considerable status increase for Becky), and the beggar girl was taken in by the baker and made into an apprentice, and they all live happily ever after.

Reflections
On the passage of time, there are clear references to passage of time—Sara is 7 at the outset, it is on her 11th birthday that she has the downturn in her financial position, and then around 2 years passes before her fortune is restored at the end—so an interval of 5-6 years from the beginning of the story to the end. However, at the same time, there is a static quality to the classroom—antagonist Lavinia is 12 at the start of the book, and so she should not have been still present at the end, and while Lottie seems to vanish other than in references, it doesn't seem that she ages much (she is clearly stated to be 7 at the time right after Sara's father's death, but doesn't seem characterized as different than she was at 4). I suppose the inconsistency of time is something that never occurred to me as a child, and perhaps it is something that we, as readers, have grown accustomed to demanding of our fiction in the years since 1905, but was not yet an expectation at the time of writing. This time issue could easily be ameliorated with a few minor changes to the story (for example, eliminating the age gap between Sara and Lavinia and perhaps shortening the time of Sara's 'good years' in the school), but is a bit of an inconsistency that glares to me as an adult reader returning to this story.
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Another element which I was not particularly cognizant of as a child is the matter of social class. Sara Crewe comes from a wealthy background, living in India amongst British army officers (not enlisted) and is described as “well-bred”. While Sara, as a member of the wealthy class, is allowed to ascend back to at least her original status, and implied she is far more wealthy at the end, other characters such as Becky, Ram Dass, and Anne (the beggar girl) can only aspire to positions as a personal maid (which is a much higher status than scullery maid, but still firmly in the serving class) or other member of the working class (Ram Dass as a servant; Anne as baker's apprentice).

Princess Motif
The motif of Sara being seen as a princess occurs quite frequently though the book. Initially, these are elements based on outward realities—Sara's obvious wealth and her manners. For Sara herself, it seems to be more of an extension of what wealth means for her—that she has the opportunity, and perhaps obligation, to do good because of the status she has. When Sara's wealth seems to vanish, though, it is Becky who insists that Sara will always be a princess, no matter what happens. This does seem to help Sara through her trials as she maintains the dignity and manners that she had always displayed despite deliberate cruelty and deprivation. It is, in many ways, this manner of “how to act like a princess” which seems to be the theme of this story.

Illustrations - by Tasha Tudor
Illustrations are in both the hard cover and the paperback copies, though the paperback renders them in black and white and the hard back has them in color.
1 Shopping.jpg 2 Meeting Becky.jpg 3 Papa Dead.jpg
4 Melchisedec.jpg 5 Sixpence.jpg 6 Ram Dass.JPG 7 Beggar.JPG 8 Banquet.JPG 9 Magic.JPG 10 Found.JPG 11 Charity.JPG
 

iPappy

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Just going to tag some members who indicated up thread that they might be joining us this month. Reviews can be posted up to the end of the month, so no rush. Just don't want you to forget. And, if your books have any neat illustrations, do feel free to post a couple of them.

Here's the questions you can either answer outright, or incorporate in your review.

What book did you read?
Tell us a little about the book
Why did you choose it?
Had you read it before?
Did you buy the book or was it given to you.
How old were you when you read it.
Does it evoke some memory for you
Would you like to share the memory with us



Lari Lari : do you have a book to review? One of J's favs, maybe?



@Mia6: Did you read The Hunger Games?



@Fostercatmom_358: Were you able to read the 4th book of The Shiloh series?



@BromeliadsInBloom: Have you read a childhood favourite you can tell us about?



@Margot Lane: How's The Cat Who Walks by Himself coming along? Finish yet?



@mani: Were you able to find The Phantom Tollbooth?



allmykitties allmykitties : Did your re-read of The Little Princess happen?
I'm not tagged, but, I am going to write up a more detailed description of the book now that I'm done. I've forgotten how FUNNY the book is!
 

verna davies

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allmykitties allmykitties . Thanks for you very detailed review of your book and the photos so typical of the time the book was set. There always seems to be a roaring fire with the dog lying beside its master and of course they ' all live happily ever after'. I can imagine children enjoying reading the book.
 
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rubysmama

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A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
allmykitties allmykitties : Wow. What a wonderfully detailed description of the book. I've never read it before, but may put it on my "to read" list. Beautiful illustrations
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I'm not tagged, but, I am going to write up a more detailed description of the book now that I'm done. I've forgotten how FUNNY the book is!
iPappy iPappy : Looking forward to reading your more detailed description of your book.
 

iPappy

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Matilda begins with the author explaining that parents usually dote on their kids, no matter what. He then brings up the subject of parents who take the opposite approach, and take no notice of their child no matter how sensitive or brilliant they are. Matilda is one of those kids. Born into a family of flaky people who take no notice of her, she teaches herself to read fluently by the age of 4. Her parents take no notice and believe reading and education is a waste of time, such that they don't enroll her in school on time. When she's left alone during the day, she walks herself to the library and wows the librarian by reading not only all the childrens books, but many of the greats by Dickens and Hemmingway. She begins checking books out to take home.

Her father decides to teach her older brother the tricks of the trade of the family used car business. Matilda soon realizes that her father is a cheat, and is selling unsafe cars to people who trust him. He doesn't approve of her morals and essentially tells her to shut up. Matilda is angry and decides that every time one of her parents acts terribly towards her, she'll quietly retaliate. At one point, she sneaks superglue onto the brim of a ridiculous hat her father insists on wearing every day. The hat is glued to his head, and his wife has to cut it off with scissors, leaving him looking even more ridiculous. The next time, she borrows a talking parrot and leaves the bird, cage and all, in the chimney and is pleases when the bird starts shouting "HELLO" during dinner, scaring the crap out of everyone but her. (The bird is returned, safe and sound the next day, with the comment from Matilda..."my parents adored him.")

Through all of her reading and her intelligence, Matilda becomes very good at doing math in her head. One day her father is quizzing her brother on the days profits at the crooked used car shop, and she's able to do it in her head, immediately. He says she's a cheat and saw the figures, and refuses to believe her. So, in retaliation, she sneaks into their bathroom and adds her mothers hair dye peroxide into his all black hair dye and he successfully dyes his hair a weird, purple-ish gray. A freak-out ensues when he realizes he looks, in his own words, like his wife gone wrong.

Soon after, Matilda starts school at 5 1/2 years old. Her teacher is a sweet, kindly young woman named Miss Honey. She starts the class by warning the kids that the Headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, runs a tight ship and they should never talk back to her, or try to be funny around her and be on their best behavior. The kids agree. Miss Honey soon realizes that Matilda is far, far more advanced in her reading and math skills, so, when the bell rings she approaches Miss Trunchbull about moving Matilda up a few grades. Miss Trunchbull recently bought a used car from her father, and says he's warned her about Matilda and what a horrible kid she is. Miss Honey disagrees, and the Trunchbull all but throws her out. Miss Honey goes to the teachers and gets extra material for Matilda to work on so she's not bored in class.

Miss Honey's next course of action is to visit Matilda's parents. She decides to wait until later in the evening when the kids are sure to be asleep. The parents show no interest in discussing their daughters education or abilities, and openly sneer at educated people. The mother even says that Miss Honey chose books, and she chose looks, and she has a nice house with a successful husband and Miss Honey is stuck "teaching a bunch of snot nosed brats the ABC's." Miss Honey leaves, realizing she's possibly hit a dead end.

The next chapter starts with Matilda and Lavender in the school yard, as a 10 year old girl starts telling them more about the Trunchbull and how she was an Olympic champion in the hammerthrow. She also tells the about a place called "The Chokey", which is a tiny closet in the Trunchbull's office that has glass and nails sticking out in it. If the Trunchbull throws you in there, you have to be absolutely upright and still unless you want to get cut up. Soon after, the Trunchbull does some horrible things, like throwing a girl over the fence because she refuses to cut off her pigtails and forces a boy she suspects stole a slice of cake from her lunch to eat an entire cake the size of a dinner table. Later, Miss Honey tells the class that the Trunchbull will be taking over her class every Thursday afternoon, and reminds them to be on their best behavior. Matilda's friend Lavender is assigned with the task of making sure there's a pitcher of water and a clean glass on the table every Thursday at 2:00. Inspired by Matilda's retailation against her parents at home, she catches a newt from a pond and smuggles him to school. At recess on Thursday, she sneaks back inside and dumps the newt into the Trunchbulls pitcher!

At 2:00 the Trunchbull barges in, and tells the kids how horrible they are, and how much she despises small children, and picks on several of the students, calling them disgusting, etc. She punishes several of the kids for little things sane people look past, but the kids handle it in stride. She's angered by how well the kids are doing in learning their spelling and math, but anytime they make a mistake she yells louder. Miss Honey does her best to stand up to her, but the Trunchbull yells at her too. Geez, despite this book being pretty funny and entertaining, this woman is AWFUL.
Then the Trunchbull starts in on Matilda, who starts talking about Nicholas Nickleby and other favorite works of literature and the Trunchbull just about blows a fuse. The Trunchbull demands to know her name, and when she says "Matilda Wormwood" she recognizes the last name of the man she bought her car from, that has since broken down. She starts screaming and raging about how they're crooks, and she tells her to sit down and shut up. The Trunchbull pours herself a glass of water and the newt falls into the glass, scaring the living crap out of her. Angry at her own weakness, she immediately blames Matilda who angrily yells back that she didn't do anything. She thinks how much she hates the Trunchbull, and stares at the little newt in the glass and thinks how great it would be to just grab the glass and spill the entire thing, newt and all, on the Trunchbull's head. She feels her eyes getting hotter and hotter as she stares at the glass, and just like that, the glass tips, the newt goes flying onto the Trunchbull who begins screaming and dancing around. When she shakes the newt off, she immediately blames Matilda despite the fact none of the kids have stood up from their desks. The Trunchbull storms out of the room. (Lavender rescues the newt and returns him to the pond later.)

After the other kids leave, Matilda approaches Miss Honey and admits she was the one who dumped the glass. Miss Honey is obviously not convinced, until Matilda sits across the room and manages to tip the glass once again right in front of Miss Honey's eyes. Miss Honey agrees to keep this a secret for now.

Matilda joins Miss Honey for tea at her very tiny cottage. She lives very simply and doesn't even have running water. She and Matilda begin to talk about what happened at school, and the conversations leads to how Miss Honey came to live in the cottage. She tells Matilda that her Mother died when she was 2, and her Aunt came to live with her father and her. She hated her aunt, as she was abusive towards her. And when she was 5, her father died very suddenly. His death was ruled suicide. Miss Honey's aunt now had full custody, and made her life a living hell until she moved out into the little cottage just a few years ago. Miss Honey expresses that she was never able to be strong and stand up like Matilda did against the Trunchbull because of her upbringing, and admires Matilda for her inner strength and ability to fight back. Miss Honey notes that her Aunt still lives in the house that, she feels, is rightfully hers as her fathers will was never found. Then, Miss Honey admits that her Aunt is the Trunchbull!! Matilda about has a fit. She asks a bunch of questions, already brewing a plan, and wants to specifically know what her Father and Aunt called her, and what her Father and Aunt called each other. Miss Honey says they called one another by their first names (Magnus and Agatha), and they both called her Jenny. Matilda carefully stores this information away in her mind.

Matilda goes home, and for the next several afternoons she practices moving a pen with her eyes, picking it up, and manipulating it in the air. It's exhausting, but so worth it. She gets quite good at it, and one Thursday she decides she's ready. The Trunchbull storms into the classroom at 2:00PM, as usual, and begins barking at the kids and ordering them around and talking about how they're all just a bunch of pieces of crap. Matilda, sitting in her seat, uses her eye power to pick up the chalk. The kids start shrieking that the chalk is moving on it's own! The Trunchbull is terrified, and the chalk writes a message on the blackboard:

"Agatha
This is Magnus
It IS Magnus and you better believe it
Agatha, give my Jenny back her house
Give my Jenny her wages
Give my Jenny her house
Then get out of here.
If you don't, I will come and get you, like you got me.
I'm watching you Agatha"


Matilda lets the chalk abruptly drop. The Trunchbull faints. Some teachers and the principal come haul her off to the sick room, and no one is upset that she's fainted because no one likes her. As the kids file out of the classroom, Miss Honey grabs Matilda and hugs her tightly.

The next day, the Trunchbull is absent. She doesn't answer her phone, so, at lunchtime one of the teachers goes to her house and knocks on the door. No answer. The door is unlocked. No one is there. The place is still furnished, but personal items like shoes, clothes, etc., are gone. Later, Miss Honey receives a call that her fathers will has mysteriously turned up, and she was the rightful owner of the house as well as her fathers life savings, which are still intact.

A few weeks later, Matilda is having tea with Miss Honey again, this time at the large house Miss Honey grew up in, and Matilda tells her that she tried to use her powers to knock something over just for fun, but, she couldn't. Miss Honey thinks that, with the Trunchbull gone and hence Matilda having been moved up into a higher grade, her mind has more things to do and has less pent up energy. Matilda is not completely upset by this. When she gets home a little later, her parents are frantically packing the car with suitcases and all their belongings. Matilda has no idea what's going on, and her parents tell her to pack because they're leaving in half an hour for Spain, and they're never coming back. Matilda is so upset she runs back to Miss Honey's and tells her, and Miss Honey informs her that her father is in with a bunch of crooks after all, and it was only a matter of time before the police caught onto him, hence the sudden move. Matilda doesn't know what to do with herself. She cries and tells Miss Honey she doesn't want to go and wants to live with her instead, and Miss Honey tells her that she can't just take someone else's child. Matilda then thinks that her parents would agree, so she and Miss Honey run back to her house. Miss Honey tells them that she would love to adopt their daughter but would only do it with their full consent, and the parents are like "yeah, whatever" and get in the car, and drive off, leaving Matilda and Miss Honey living happily ever after! 10/10!

I can't write up this story without mentioning the movie made in the mid-90's. It's a wonderful film and it's definitely worth a watch. Mara Wilson plays Matilda, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman play the parents, and Embeth Davidtz plays Miss Honey. All of them are absolutely wonderful in their respective roles. But IMO Pam Ferris steals the show as the Trunchbull. She captures that scary mean side, but injects just enough physical comedy and humorous one-liners that she's not TOO scary.
 

Mamanyt1953

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I can't write up this story without mentioning the movie made in the mid-90's.
I have both the book and the movie on my "must have" Iist, and wiII be moving them up as soon as I'm finished here at TCS!

I cannot teII you aII how much I am enjoying reading about aII of your beIoved chiIdren's books! It Iooks as if I'm going to have a new genre to coIIect. The two series I KNOW wiII be incIuded are the Trixie BeIden series, and the Harry Potter series!
 

iPappy

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What a wonderful review, so detailed, thank you. It sounds a great book and certainly a film I'd like to see if its still available. Can you remember the name of the film, is it the same title as the book..Love the antics of Matilda.
Yes, the movie is of the same name as the book, simply, "Matilda".
The book is over 300 pages, but, it's actually a quick read if that makes sense.
allmykitties allmykitties , I don't remember reading the book as a small child but I do remember the Shirley Temple movie "The Little Princess" based on the book. By the time we saw it, it was 45+ years old and still stood the test of time.
 
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rubysmama

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